Fuel restrictions in Antarctic Waters (NYT editorial)

Good map of Antarctica, Justhus Perthes See Atlas 1906 Inset maps of Cape town, Cape of good hope, Magalhaes strait, Hobart, Port Elizabeth

Published: April 22, 2010

Early this month, the International Maritime Organization — the United Nations agency that oversees maritime law — announced that large cruise ships will no longer be allowed to burn heavy fuel in Antarctic waters. This is a welcome step in protecting the harsh but delicate polar environment.

It is also part of a global effort to end the use of heavy, high-sulfur fuel in oceangoing ships. Burning heavy fuel throws highly polluting emissions into the atmosphere, and it poses a serious risk to marine life if spilled.

Gasoline and diesel, used in cars and trucks, are relatively light refined fuels, with strict limits on their sulfur content. The heavy fuel used in ships, including cruise ships, is called bunker fuel. It is basically the crude residue of refining — closer to asphalt than gasoline — mixed with diesel fuel.

The need to restrict these fuels has led the United Nations agency to begin creating Emission Control Areas, where tougher pollution standards, including a sharp reduction in sulfur and particulates, will be enforced.

The ban on high-sulfur fuel in Antarctica, which begins in August 2011, will effectively end visits by cruise ships carrying more than 500 passengers. It will also reduce the total number of Antarctic passenger visits from more than 15,000 a year to about 6,400, all of whom will be traveling on smaller, lighter and greener ships.

This is an important step and a welcome respite for the waters. And it will help drive the cruise industry — notorious polluters — to re-examine its essential mission.

After all, what’s the point of visiting the natural wonders of the nautical world if you leave a terrible stain behind when you leave?

Original article here