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Volume 470: debated on Tuesday 8 January 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has raised concerns with the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat on pollution from the sinking of a passenger cruise vessel in Antarctic waters. (176880)

The UK has not raised any concerns with the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat on this issue as the Secretariat has no executive powers to take action. This is a matter for Treaty Parties. We have consulted experts from the British Antarctic Survey, whose initial view is that the environmental impacts from the vessel are likely to be minimal. The M/S Explorer used marine gas oil, which is a light non-persistent fuel. The ship sank in open water, some 50 nautical miles from the nearest point of land and any penguin or seabird colonies. There have been reports of fuel leakage, but this has been dissipating quickly and evaporating in the open water. HMS “Endurance” is due to arrive in Antarctica shortly and she will use swath bathymetry to accurately locate the position of the vessel on the seabed and report on any visible signs of pollution.

Tourism and cruise ship safety in Antarctica will be major discussion topics at the next Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Kiev in June 2008. The UK will continue to engage fully with other Treaty Parties in these discussions and will pursue its proposals for measures to strengthen the contingency plans of cruise ships in the Antarctic.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he plans to make a territorial claim on Antarctica; and what advice he has received on potential conflicts with the Antarctic Treaty Act. (176881)

The UK has no plans to make any new territorial claim on Antarctica; nor would it do so as that would be contrary to the Antarctic treaty.

The UK has not made any announcements, or final decisions, about any approach to the UN Commission regarding delineation of the outer limits of the continental shelf pertaining to the British Antarctic Territory. The UK will make its intentions known to the Commission prior to the deadline in 2009.

In making any decision to submit information to the UN Commission for the limits of continental shelf, we will of course respect our obligations under the Antarctic treaty and related agreements. We remain fully committed to the treaty, including its protocol on Environmental Protection 1991, which prohibits indefinitely all activity related to mineral resources, other than scientific research, within the treaty area.