A new amendment passed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that bans the use and carriage of heavy fuel oils in the Antarctic beginning in mid 2011 is projected to lead to a nearly 23 percent decline in cruise tourism to the region, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO).

This ban will come into effect August 1, 2011 and will mostly impact the operation of large cruise only ships that carry more than 500 passengers and briefly pass through Antarctica waters while traveling from South America. Designed to minimize the potential for accidents involving heavy fuel oils, the ban will force larger ships to deplete any banned fuel onboard before traveling into the region.

As a result, it is expected that a number of these ships will alter their itineraries to avoid the area, which will result in a projected decline in tourism from a current annual estimate of 35,000 visitors for the 2010-11 season to roughly 27,000 the following season.

"Our mission remains the advocacy of responsible tourism operations geared toward the safety of human life and the protection and preservation of the Antarctic environment," notes Steve Wellmeier, Executive Director of IATTO. "As a result, our members are receptive to those changes that help accomplish these objectives."

Unaffected will be the majority of smaller, expedition-type cruise vessels – those carrying between 60 and 500 passengers – which in recent years have relied on lighter distillate fuels such as marine gas oil and marine diesel oil. These fuels are not included in the ban.