Good news for Antarctica (and Mexico too)
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Good news for Antarctica (and Mexico too)

Just a year ago we mentioned that 37,552 tourists had visited the Antarctic in 2006/07. The 2007/08 total, which was not yet in, finally came to 46,069, an increase of almost a quarter. In 1991, this number had been 4,698, indicating a tenfold increase over that period.
Much of this growth was caused by large ship lines such as Princess, Holland America, Celebrity and Crystal, who just cruise by the landscape, joining the specialist small ship operators, who make proper landings.
Now comes news that large ships, which do not make landings anyway, may be prevented from cruising in Antarctica by new regulations governing the carriage and use of heavy fuel in that region.
Meanwhile, a reduction in the level of the travel health warning for Americans travelling to Mexico is allowing the big ships back into that country again.

The Rise and Fall of Big Ships in Antarctica?

The 848-passenger Marco Polo began cruising in the Antarctic in 1993, and was joined in 2001 by the 710-berth Discovery . Two newer Norwegian Hurtigruten ships, the 500-passenger Fram and 690-passenger Nordnorge, plus Swan Hellenic's 352-berth Minerva, later also joined this sector. All of these ships do make landings but they limit the number of passengers they carry to the Antarctic to between 199 and 400 in order to restrict the number actually landing to no more than 100 at a time, doing so in stages. Others in this category include Saga, Peter Deilmann and Transocean.

More recently, Holland America, Princess, Celebrity and Crystal, have all scheduled cruises to the Antarctic for what they call "scenic cruising" of the area. Ships such as the Golden Princess and Star Princess can carry up to 2,425 passengers and 1,120 crew. Celebrity Cruises' Infinity, which can carry up 2,450 passengers, will perform two Antarctic cruises in 2010.

Last June, "The Cruise Examiner" said "What worries people most about these ships is not just the huge numbers of souls they can carry to isolated locations and the lack of Antarctic knowledge among their officers and crews, but also the fact that the owners of these ships do not feel it is necessary to have double hulls or even ice-strengthening to navigate these waters, not to mention the risk of pollution from the heavy oil that these ships burn as opposed to the lighter diesel used by most expedition ships."

It is this latter concern that has finally caused governments to act.

Two ships have already decided to leave the Antarctic region in the Discovery, which will not return for 2009/10, and the Minerva, which will be absent in 2010/11, while Hurtigruten has already cut back its program from two ships to just the Fram.
And these are the mid-size ships. Meanwhile, the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) has already indicated that its big ship members, who do not make landings, will probably not be able to afford to return to Antarctica in 2011/12.

New Fuel Regulations

The plan that will potentially give the big ships a problem is a prohibition on the carriage or use of heavy fuel in the Antarctic, a measure that is aimed at preventing spills. While the smaller ships use lighter or intermediate fuel that will disperse more quickly in case of a spill, the big ships tend to burn the cheaper heavy fuel that can present a serious long-term threat to the environment should there be an accident or a spill, especially in the larger quantities these ships carry.

The changes have been recommended by the 28 countries of the Antarctic Treaty organization to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), which is governed by the International Maritime Organization in London. Under existing MARPOL regulations, the Antarctic has been designated as a special area since March 1992.

Proposed to come into effect in mid-2011, the new regulations would mean that big ships will only be able to use more expensive diesel oil rather than the cheap bunker fuel that their ships are equipped to burn. Not only that, they would not even be allowed to carry the heavier bunker fuel. A the moment larger ships only burn diesel oil when south of 60 degrees latitude, and bunker oil when north of that line. To demonstrate what this will mean in dollar terms, the price of heavy oil (IFO380) in Chile last week was $373 a tonne while marine diesel was selling for $570, or 52.8% more.

Put another way, if a ship burns 1,000 tons on a 7-day voyage, that's close to 150 tons per day, or an increase in fuel cost of close to $30,000 per day, or about $200,000 over a week.

Changes Among the Expedition Ships

Meanwhile, there have been a number of changes among the operators of the smaller expeditions ships.
After the absorption of INTRAV and its Clipper brand and Australia's Peregrine Adventures into the Quark brand under TUI, a recent announcement has been made that Peregrine will be reinstated as an operator, responsible for marketing and operating the 104-berth Akademik Sergey Vavilov.
Basically, this will leave Quark with the 112-berth icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov and three passenger ships, the 122-berth Clipper Adventurer, 112-berth Lyubov Orlova and 68-berth Ocean Nova, and Peregrine with the adapted scientific research ship. The 48-berth Akademik Shokalskiy, meanwhile, will not return to the Antarctic in 2009/10 even though she was originally scheduled to.

Former Peregrine manager Andrew Prossin last year set up his own company, One Ocean Expeditions in Vancouver, and in 2009/10 will operate five Antarctic departures with the 108-berth Akademik Ioffe, which previously worked for Quark. Last season, One Ocean worked with Oceanwide Adventures of Flushing.

The addition of One Ocean means that five of these adventure companies now operate from Canada. GAP Adventures, with its new 116-berth ship Expedition, and Cruise North Expeditions, which operates the Lyubov Orlova in the Canadian Arctic each summer, are both located in Toronto, as is Patrick Shaw, president of Quark Expeditions, whose reservations offices are located in Stamford, Connecticut.

Meanwhile, Polar Star Expeditions, which operates the 96-berth icebreaker Polar Star is based in Halifax. Ironically, Prossin and Shaw, along with Cruise North boss Dugald Wells, all worked for the pioneering Canadian operator Marine Expeditions before that company went out of business in 2001, victim of a spike in the price of fuel that brought down the affiliated World Cruise Company.
In the United States, as well as Quark in Stamford, Lindblad National Geographic, with their 148-berth National Geographic Explorer, and Travel Dynamics, with the 100-berth Clelia II and 114-berth Corinthian II, are both located in the New York area, with Lindblad and Travel Dynamics both having offices in Manhattan.

Cruise West are also using the Corinthian II, a sister ship of their own Spirit of Oceanus, for a dedicated 18-night Antarctic, Falklands and South Georgia departure of their own on February 8, 2010. New fleetmate Clelia II has just been acquired and was upgraded to Ice Class in Piraeus this spring. She will now alternate her winters in the Antarctic with summers in the Great Lakes.

Outside of North America, operators include Hapag-Lloyd Cruises of Hamburg, with the 138-berth Bremen and 168-berth Hanseatic, Silversea Expeditions of Monaco, with the 120-berth Prince Albert II, and Oceanwide Expeditions of Flushing, with its 112-berth Plancius, 84-berth Antarctic Dream and 53-berth sister ships Professor Molchanov and Professor Multanovskiy, and in Australia, Orion Expedition Cruises, with the 106-passenger Orion and Aurora Expeditions, with its 100-berth Marina Svetaeva and 56-berth Polar Pioneer.

New Zealand's Heritage Expeditions meanwhile operates the 48-berth Spirit of Enderby. One little ship that will not return, however, is the 100-berth Andrea, now under arrest in Split.

All of these ships carry only 100 or so passengers and are equipped with zodiacs for landings to observe local wildlife, the area's spectacular scenery and to visit research stations. And while the 50-berth ships are slowly disappearing, several of these ships, such as the National Geographic Explorer, Expedition, Clelia II and Plancius, are new to the scene, while Corinthian II, Ocean Nova and Prince Albert II are also fairly recent additions, so there is still a wide choice for the consumer.

Mexico to go Back on Cruise Line Schedules

Good news came this week for Mexico when on Friday the US Centers for Disease Control reduced their warning for Americans travelling to Mexico from avoiding non-essential travel to a health precaution warning. Carnival Cruise Lines, who had changed itineraries for sixteen of their fleet, were the first to advise of a return to Mexico once the recently announced itinerary changes had run their course.

With the exception of the Holiday, which will be the first ship to return to Mexico when she calls at Cozumel on May 28, the remainder have amended itineraries that stretch into mid-June. Royal Caribbean will return after May 24, with the exception of the West Coast-based Mariner of the Seas, which has been scheduled to Canada and the Pacific Northwest until her June 14th sailing. Princess and Holland America have now started their Alaska seasons, but ResidenSea's The World has already called on Cabo San Lucas and La Paz since the announcement on Friday.

The least-affected line, NCL, last week was even able to announce a first-quarter profit of $5.2 million compared to a loss of $145 million in 2008. Royal Caribbean's loss for the same period was $36.2 million, compared to a $75.6 million profit for the same period in 2008.

But as The Cruise Examiner said in its feature on NCL on April 28, 2008, "NCL's future, with Apollo's backing, now looks better than it has at any time since 1980, when it introduced the Norway as the world's first mega cruise ship." The ever-successful Carnival Corp & PLC, meanwhile, went from a $236 million profit in first quarter 2008 up to $260 million this year.

(Source: By Mark Tré -

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