Environmental Enhancements Across South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands

Commercial mineral and hydrocarbon extraction prohibition

The aim of the proposed legislation is to protect the environment of the Territory by prohibiting the commercial exploitation of mineral or hydrocarbon resources, whilst allowing for scientific research and related activities, modelled on the legal position on Antarctica under international law.

Currently, the Commissioner may grant permits for Regulated Activities under the Wildlife and Protected Areas Ordinance 2011 (WPA), which prohibits the disturbance of the biodiversity in the Territory. Failure to have a permit or breaking the terms of a permit could be a criminal offence under the WPA. While it is long-standing policy that the Commissioner would not permit the commercial exploitation of minerals, because of the disturbance of the biodiversity, there is no specific law that prohibits it. The proposed legislation seeks to write this commitment into law.

The regulated activity permitting process on SGSSI will continue to be the management control for ensuring compliance with the legislation.


Prohibition of the use and carriage of Heavy Fuel Oil

The South Georgia and South Sandwich Island’s Marine Protected Areas Order (2012), was carefully designed to ensure the protection and conservation of the regions rich and diverse marine life.  Whilst specific reference is not made to the use or prohibition of Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) it does fall within the broader objectives of our desire for world leading conservation management.

Any Heavy Fuel Oil spill poses a risk of longer term environmental impact due to its persistence in the environment (particularly at cold temperatures).  In this respect it is different to lighter fuels, such as Marine Gas Oil (MGO), which evaporates relatively quickly and can be rapidly and efficiently dispersed by wave action.

The risk posed by Heavy Fuel Oil spills to the SGSSI environment is heightened further by the remote location of the islands. There is no airstrip into which incident response equipment could be transported quickly.

In February 2017 GSGSSI commissioned an independent assessment of the environmental risks of HFO use and bunkering in territorial waters of SGSSI.

The study was undertaken in the form of a strategic environmental assessment.  The study considered the risks associated with HFO use, carriage and bunkering activity in light of the environmental, policy and operational context of SGSSI.

The study assessed the risk of a spill event associated with the carriage and use of heavier fuel oils as ‘critical’; a combination of a ‘possible’ likelihood and potentially ‘major’ consequences for the environment.  This level of risk is inconsistent with GSGSSI policy and/or with the provisions of the MPA.

The independent assessment also noted that an oil spill event, particularly involving heavier fuel oils, is likely to have both reputational and financial implications for GSGSSI and has the potential to interrupt globally significant scientific research and data sets.

Recognising the extremely sensitive nature of the SGSSI environment, and taking into account the amendment to MARPOL Annex 1 for the adjacent maritime Antarctic Treaty Area, as a matter of good governance the Government will be implementing the MARPOL Annex 1 Regulation 43 prohibition on the carriage and use of heavy fuel oil.

Using this specification would be consistent with controls in place further south, and with provisions established by the IMO (International Maritime Organization).  This specification is well known to the majority of operators and will ensure ease of operation for vessels that frequently travel between the Antarctic Treaty Area and SGSSI waters.

The Government will follow the MARPOL definition as set out in Regulation 43.

With the exception of vessels engaged in securing the safety of ships or in a search and rescue operation, the carriage in bulk as cargo or carriage and use as fuel  for the following:  crude oils having a density at 15 degrees centigrade higher than 900kg/m3; oils, other than crude oils, having a density at 15 degrees centigrade higher        than 900 kg/m3 or a kinematic viscosity at 50 degrees centigrade higher than 180mm2/s; or bitumen, tar and their emulsions, shall be prohibited.

When prior operations have included the carriage or use of oils listed above the cleaning or flushing of tanks or pipelines is not required.

The Government proposes to prohibit the use and carriage of HFO as defined above in those areas around the South Sandwich Islands which are not already covered by the MARPOL prohibition south of 60 degrees South by 31 December 2018, extending this across the 1.24m km2 SGSSI Maritime Zone no later than 31 December 2020.