The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, IAATO, with over a hundred member organizations held in April its latest annual meeting in Punta Arenas, Chile with a numerous delegation from the Falkland Islands attending given the growing economic significance of the cruise industry and Antarctica tours.
This is a special year for IAATO, created two decades ago and which advocates, promotes and practices safe and environmentally responsible private-sector travel to Antarctica.
“Attending IAATO is a fantastic opportunity to meet fellow colleagues and old friends to discuss common issues; this IAATO had a very high attendance with somewhere in the region of 130 attendees” revealed Samantha Marsh, Tourism Coordinator from Sulivan Shipping in the Falklands.
She added that attendees came from far and wide: Holland, Germany, United States and “of course closer to home (Falklands), Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Chile did a wonderful job of hosting us”.
Samantha said that for Sulivan and the cruise-tourism industry of the Falklands it “is important to understand the issues and future for Antarctic tourism as it will have a knock-on effect for us! The Polar Code (*) could have a huge impact when this is finalized in 2014. It’s no new regulation as such but there are a lot of discussions with regards to the Polar Code”.
As always, representatives from the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Relations and the Argentine Antarctic Institute were invited to attend the IAATO annual meeting in Punta Arenas, as were representatives from other Antarctic Treaty Parties.
However although representatives from Argentina were unfortunately unable to attend the meeting on April 22-24, several Argentine representatives did participate in the IAATO-sponsored Search & Rescue Workshop that was held the following day, April 25, also in Punta Arenas.
Nevertheless many IAATO Argentine members also participated in the full meeting.
“This was very worthwhile, as passenger vessel operators, MRCC representatives from both Chile and Argentina and the US Coast Guard all participated in this productive session”, revealed Tony Mason, Director of the Falkland Islands’ Tourism Office.
(*) The ‘Polar Code’ refers to the safety of ships operating in the harsh, remote and vulnerable polar areas and the protection of the pristine environments around the two poles and which is under discussion at the International Maritime Organization and already has produced many relevant requirements, provisions and recommendations.
The draft International code of safety for ships operating in polar waters would cover the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue and environmental protection matters relevant to ships operating in the inhospitable waters surrounding the two poles and should be agreed sometime next year.
IMO Secretary General Koji Sekimizu last December was on an official mission to Antarctica, with Chilean support to get a first hand impression of the challenges the organization and the code must contemplate.
“The main purpose of the mission is to highlight the importance of IMO priority work program to establish a new international legal instrument to ensure safe navigation and protection of the marine environment in Arctic and Antarctic regions - the mandatory Polar Code - with a view to adopting it in 2014”, said Mr. Sekimizu at the time.