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From August 2011, ships carrying and using heavy fuel oil will be banned from operating in Antarctic waters, essentially restricting cruise ships with more than 500 passengers in a bid to protect the continent’s fragile environment. Passenger numbers to the Antarctic are expected to drop from over 15,000 a year to about 6,400 under the restrictions. This opens up possibilities for small-ship operators; Bentours business head Jeremy Hearst said Bentours Antarctic cruises, operated by Hurtigruten and Gap Adventures, met the new requirements and would not be affected.

“From 2011 onwards there will be far fewer ships sailing to Antarctica. That is good news for us, but it means that our packages will sell out fast for the 2011/2012 cruising season,” Hearst said. “Now is the time to book Antarctic cruising as the strength of the Australian dollar is keeping prices down.”

Azamara Club Cruises will operate its first voyage to the region in January 2012 with Azamara Journey and a second visit is planned in January 2013 with Azamara Quest. The ships will use marine gas oil in compliance with the new regulations.

Cruise lines that have said they are not planning to operate in Antarctica after 2011 include Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Princess Cruises.

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