Inspections in the Antarctic

2013 South African-German inspection groupClick to enlarge
2013 South African-German inspection group
Source: M. Ney

Most of UBA's work with regard to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty and the Antarctic Treaty itself is carried out in Dessau-Roßlau, but sometimes UBA staff members take part in inspections and observer missions in the Antarctic.

Inspections under the Antarctic Treaty

In January 2013, after a 14-year interval, Germany conducted an inspection in Antarctica.

Germany's partner in the latest inspection was South Africa, with whom the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centrum for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) has engaged in successful cooperation in Antarctic research for many years. The AWI provided the logistics necessary for the inspection. Article 7 of the Antarctic Treaty and Article 14 of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (Environmental Protocol) provide the legal basis for such an inspection.

This German-South African inspection of the Antarctic was headed by the Federal Foreign Office and the Director of the South African Antarctic Programme. The purpose of this inspection was to check the compliance with the regulations of the Antarctic Treaty and the Environmental Protocol. Stops on the inspection tour were mainly at research stations. The outcomes of the inspection were documented in an inspection report which also included proposals for optimisation measures as necessary. The purpose of the inspection is to promote the protection of the Antarctic environment and its dependent and associated ecosystems and to ensure compliance with the Environmental Protocol. Thus, an UBA staff member served as a delegate to perceive the environmental interests.

Inspected stations

Inspections took place at four stations in Dronning Maud Land (East Antarctica): Troll (Norway), Halley VI (Great Britain), Princess Elisabeth (Belgium) and Maitri (India).
All of the team's inspections were based on the checklist specifically drew up for that purpose by the Parties to the Antarctic Treaty. The report which the inspection team subsequently draws up outlines the conditions at the bases and makes recommendations for their optimisation as concerns environmental protection, research and logistics. The Parties concerned by inspections were given the opportunity to submit comments before the inspection report was introduced and published at the ATCM in May 2013.

On the whole the inspection was considered a success. The stations inspected in East Antarctica have widely varying (environmental) standards as do their state of maintenance and scope of scientific activities. All the stations proved to have deficits in terms of environmental protection and corresponding recommendations for improvement were issued. No serious violation of the Antarctic Treaty or the Environmental Protocol was determined at any base. UBA hopes that the inspection will prompt implementation of the recommendations to eliminate detected deficits so that the environmental situation at the inspected stations – in so far as necessary – is further improved as envisioned by the Environmental Protocol. UBA is hopeful this aim can be achieved, based on the positive response to promises made during the XXXVI Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) in Brussels by the concerned contracting parties to make significant improvements in environmental protection.


Observer missions in the Antarctic

Observer mission of the Competent Authority

In December 2011 a representative of UBA participated on invitation by AWI at the 28th Antarctic research expedition of the research vessel Polarstern. The objective of the journey was to accompany a current whale monitoring project in the Southern Ocean and to survey (?) the processes at Neumayer Station III and Polarstern. In addition to delivering logistical supplies to Germany's Neumayer Station III, the research agenda focused on oceanographic activities.

Six research projects and three logistics activities (operation of the Polarstern research vessel, helicopter service and the Neumayer III research station) – all permitted by UBA – were carried out on this leg of the expedition.
Being on-site enabled the UBA staff member to conduct spot checks in the framework of the Agency's legally anchored inspection tasks and to raise awareness among the participants on the expedition of the objectives of environmental protection in the Antarctic. At the same time the experience gathered on site improves the Agency's understanding of the special circumstances in the Antarctic.
In general, observer missions of this type serve to gain important knowledge about the feasibility, implementation and quality of projects and about provisos and conditions in their permits. Insight gained about research processes is taken into account in the permitting procedures.

IAATO observer mission

January 2013 marked the start of the second voyage taken by a representative of the national Competent Authority in the capacity of an observer for the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators – IAATO aboard a German cruise ship. The purpose of this observer mission was to determine whether the cruise ship complied with all of the IAATO standards defined in the IAATO Field Operations Manual and could thus be taken up as full member of the IAATO.

As the national Competent Authority UBA recommends that all cruise ship operators with destinations to the Antarctic become members of IAATO and to accept the voluntary commitment to subscribe to the high environmental standards which the association has set for cruise ships.

The voyage was also an occasion to determine compliance with the provisos and conditions in the permit issued by UBA. These requirements include ensuring that passengers are informed about applicable behaviour rules and regulations on the environmental protection when visiting the Antarctic. All the pertinent areas of the cruise ship were inspected: the bridge, engine room, sewage and waste management, hospital, kitchen and laundry. The condition of these spaces and overall safety management were discussed with the captain and appropriate crew members.

In total, the expedition of the German cruise ship was deemed a success and judged to be very well organised. Cooperation between the captain and his crew, the expedition leader and his team of lecturers, and the cruise ship director and his team was outstanding. UBA's staff member did not determine any relevant discrepancies between IAATO guidelines and the regulations governing the Agency's permit. IAATO therefore voted to take up the cruise ship as a full member at its annual meeting in April 2013.