IAATO today issued a clarification on an IMO regulation that came into force earlier this year banning the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the Antarctic Treaty Area and how its members are dealing with the ban.

“IAATO and its members have received calls from prospective Antarctic travelers and from the media confused about the HFO ban,” said Steve Wellmeier, executive director of IAATO. “There is some misunderstanding on the extent of the ban’s impact on Antarctica-bound cruise vessels, particularly the larger passenger vessels that generally use fuels defined as HFO.”

Media outlets have erroneously reported, for example, that large ships are banned altogether from operating in Antarctic waters as a result of the amendment to Annex 1 of the IMO MARPOL Convention, which came into effect August 1, 2011. This is not the case at all, according to Wellmeier. The ban prohibits the use and carriage of such fuels, and requires that ships traveling in the area – whether passenger or cargo ships – use and carry only lighter grade distillate fuels. Only vessels that are engaged in securing the safety of ships or in search-and-rescue operations are exempt.

“IAATO members who are operating large cruise ships to Antarctica are fully complying with the new regulation. Three Holland America Line vessels and one Azamara Club Cruise vessel plan cruise-only voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula this season,” he added. During the previous 2010-11 season, IAATO members operated a total of seven cruise-only vessels to Antarctica. Cruise-only vessels are defined by IAATO as those carrying more than 500 passengers, with no opportunities for shore landings in Antarctica.

Smaller expedition and mid-size vessels – those carrying 500 or fewer passengers – that are currently operated by IAATO members are not affected by the fuel ban, as they use and carry lighter distillate fuels such as marine gas oil or marine diesel oil.