Commercial voyages into the polar regions are becoming increasingly common. Cruise ships are taking well-heeled tourists to both Arctic and Antarctic regions. Four cruise ships on Antarctic voyages have recently suffered casualties, fortunately with no loss of life (although one of these ships sank). Some specialized cargo ships have transited the Northeast Passage above Russia and the Northwest Passage through the Canadian archipelago. The Canadian Government regulates vessels transiting within 100 nautical miles of its northern shores and a bill has been introduced in its Parliament to extend jurisdiction out to 200 nm. Russia claims authority over transits of the Northeast Passage. The juridical situation in the Antarctic is different, because there is no recognized sovereign. Rather, nations that are party to the Antarctic Treaty ascribe to a code of conduct. The Antarctic Treaty, though, did not fully envision commercial activity (particularly tourism) within those waters. As discussed in the recently completed Expert Meeting on Maritime Transport and the Climate Change Challenge, sponsored by UNCTAD, climate change and other factors have increased commercial activity in polar waters. The Government of New Zealand recently announced that it is convening an international conference in New Zealand later this year on Antarctic ship-borne tourism. The question for my long-suffering readers is what course should be taken with regard to commercial voyages in polar waters. The three major choices that come to mind are: (1) maintain the status quo; (2) establish voluntary guidelines and strongly encourage participation by companies and ships voyaging to polar regions; or (3) establish mandatory standards. Each choice has advantages and disadvantages. How say you?
Wednesday, February 25, 2009