South Georgia Newsletter, June 2009

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Fire, Rescue And Sinking

The "In Sung 22" was towed into Cumberland Bay by "Argos Froyanes". Photo Emma Jones
The "In Sung 22" was towed into Cumberland Bay by "Argos Froyanes". Photo Emma Jones


Fire was reported on the Korean flagged longliner "In Sung 22" on June 16th. The vessel was about 60 miles east of South Georgia and needed assistance.


With the Fishery Patrol Vessel (FPV) "Pharos SG" more than 24hrs away, the nearest vessel, longliner "Argos Froyanes", was contacted and asked to assist. The "Argos Froyanes" ceased fishing and sailed the 70 miles to the "In Sung 22", arriving late that evening.


The "In Sung 22" was on fire, had lost engine power and steerage. The fire is believed to have started in the rear of the accommodation section of the vessel from where it spread to a paint locker. The 40 crew had moved to the factory area of the ship as this was the area least affected by smoke. There were no reported serious injuries.


The "Argos Froyanes" took the stricken vessel in tow and started out for Cumberland East Bay (CEB), arriving there later the next day. The FPV arrived at the same time.


As the fire was still burning, the crew of the "In Sung 22" were evacuated and the vessel sealed. Twenty-six crew members were accommodated at KEP, with others aboard the FPV and "Argos Froyanes". A few of the crew members were treated for carbon monoxide exposure.


An infra-red thermometer was used daily to survey the hull temperature of the "In Sung 22" whilst it was in CEB. The continuing fire showed up as hot-spots on the hull. It appeared to cool down then flare up again regularly. As the ship was still afire it was considered unsafe to allow "In Sung 22" to go alongside any other vessel or to allow anyone back on board. It was decided that it should be towed to Montevideo as soon as possible to receive expert fire fighting assistance.


The Korean vessel owners sent another vessel, trawler "In Sung Ho", up from the South Orkney Islands to assist. It arrived on the afternoon of the 19th to take up the tow, allowing the "Argos Froyanes" to return to the fishing grounds. The crew of the "In Sung 22" transferred to the "In Sung Ho".


An infra-red thermometer was used to survey the fire's progress. Photo Emma Jones.
An infra-red thermometer was used to survey the fire's progress. Photo Emma Jones.


Reefer "MV Eurofrost" also arrived on the 19th, and later took the burning ship under tow and embarked some of the "In Sung 22" crew. "MV Eurofrost" then set sail on the afternoon of the 22nd, towing the "In Sung 22" for the projected 12-day passage to Montevideo.


Up to this point there had been no environmental damage in South Georgia waters as a result of the fire. Some days later notification was received that the tow had broken during bad weather on the 24th. The "Eurofrost" had been unable to reattach the tow line and the "In Sung 22" had sunk in position 50° 57.4’ S, 37° 42.7’ W, approximately 180 miles north of South Georgia, in deep water. Some floating debris from the sunk ship was reported. The "MV Eurofrost" stayed in the area until early on the 28th to monitor the sinking position. As the "In Sung 22" carried light fuel oil (MGO) and sank in deep water, the likely environmental impacts are not considered great. The GSGSSI Fishery Partol Vessel has inspected the area in the location of the sinking to monitor for any signs of debris or oil, none of which were observed. The "MV Eurofrost" is expected to arrive in Montevideo on July 3rd.


GSGSSI would like to thank Argos and the captain and crew of "Argos Froyanes" for their assistance.


Many of the crew of the "In Sung 22" were evacuated ashore. Photo Tommy Vintner.
Many of the crew of the "In Sung 22" were evacuated ashore. Photo Tommy Vintner.



Fishing And Shipping News

The full complement of 11 toothfish longliners were fishing in the South Georgia Maritime Zone at the beginning of the month. Several then broke off fishing to sail to Stanley, Falkland Islands to do mid-season transshipments. Catches are weighed and documented in Stanley as part of the catch verification scheme for the South Georgia Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certificated Toothfish fishery.


The first krill trawler arrived on June 8th, another on June 14th, for inspection and licensing. After a short period searching around the Island, no commercial quantities of Krill were found and the vessels departed. Krill fishing in Antarctic waters around the South Orkney Islands is reportedly good.


The first reefer of the season arrived on June 19th and anchored in Cumberland Bay.



GSGSSI Addresses The Tourist Industry

GSGSSI Executive Officer Richard McKee travelled to Providence, Rhode Island, USA to address the 20th Annual General Meeting of IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) in late June.


Richard told IAATO Members that the pilot visitor monitoring study sponsored by GSGSSI last season was well timed as it coincided with the recent publication of the revised Visitor Management Policy, and that it is important now for GSGSSI to ensure there is thorough stewardship of tourism management and that standards and permit conditions are being maintained and observed throughout the industry. The results of the pilot study are still being assessed. However, preliminary results have already identified some areas of operations to which GSGSSI will be asking operators to give their full attention. The main ones relate to staffing responsibilities ashore, compliance with minimum viewing distances to wildlife, and the importance of attention to detail when implementing biosecurity protocols in the course of small boat operations.


In relation to tourism operations close to the abandoned whaling station at Stromness, Richard said that, after consultation with asbestos advisors, GSGSSI will adjust the exclusion zone around the station to assist small boat operations to land and collect passengers whilst avoiding breeding Fur Seals. The northern edge of the exclusion zone will be moved slightly closer to the station, with a strict caveat that landings must not be undertaken there when the wind is blowing from the direction of the whaling station (south - south west). All other existing safety exclusion zones around the former whaling stations must be strictly observed.


Richard told the meeting that biosecurity remains a priority for GSGSSI. Biosecurity must commence well before a ship’s arrival at South Georgia and continue throughout the visit between landing sites. From next season GSGSSI would like vessel operators to send clients a check-list of biosecurity checks they should make before they leave home to embark on their voyage.


New legislation is being written to protect wildlife and Protected Areas and will make it an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure, capture, handle or molest a wild bird or a protected wild mammal. Richard warned vessel operators of vessels that GSGSSI may prosecute if, in the future, a vessel has an incidence of birdstrike as a result of negligence and inadequate measures being in place to avoid it. Birdstrike is where birds, usually attracted by bright lights, can fly into a ship causing some birds to die.


Richard told the meeting that the source of the oil that contaminated penguins around the Island a year ago had not been identified, but as a precautionary measure GSGSSI is now collecting fuel samples from all visiting fishing vessels and reefers.


On the subject of the continued rise in the population of Fur Seals at South Georgia, Richard told IAATO that landing is simply not safe or appropriate at many of the approved landing sites during the main Fur Seal breeding period. He suggested that when this is the case, expeditions limit themselves to offshore small boat cruising. He accepted though that where it is possible and appropriate to land safely, the numbers of seals now mean that it is not always possible to respect the IAATO recommended 5-10m distance rule from the animals. GSGSSI has amended the Government’s Wildlife Protection Guidelines to read, “Never disturb seals in breeding colonies, or territorial seals, in order to effect a landing (or cause disturbance by cruising offshore in close proximity).” IAATO Members were urged to re-examine the organisation’s own guidelines in this respect.


Richard was pleased to tell delegates that during her visit to South Georgia, HRH the Princess Royal officially opened the new Hydro-electric scheme at Grytviken. This marks the end the 8-year programme of major works at Grytviken, with only minor ongoing maintenance work anticipated in the coming seasons.


The full GSGSSI address to IAATO can be downloaded here.



Commissioner's Address To The South Georgia Association

Photo Richy.
Photo Richy.


HE the Commissioner Alan Huckle sent an address to be read out at the South Georgia Association (SGA) AGM on May 29th.


In his address the Commissioner said that 2008 has been another busy year for the South Georgia Government, culminating in the first royal visit to the territory in over 50 years, when HRH the Princess Royal visited in her role as Patron of the South Georgia Heritage Trust. GSGSSI were grateful to her for formally opening the Hydro-electric scheme as well as for the time she spent looking round KEP and meeting the residents.


The hydro-electric power plant had been a major achievement, and was a scheme that successfully combined the past and present, using the historical dam from the whaling era as a basis for a modern power generation plant. GSGSSI appreciated the hard work of Morrison Construction on this project.


The Commissioner also mentioned the new biosecurity store at KEP which offers a facility where goods being imported – or field equipment being moved from one part of the Island to another – can be cleaned and examined for seeds and insects in a secure environment.


The strong Krill fishing season had helped 2008 turn out to be better financially than GSGSSI had expected, but the Commissioner warned that this is unlikely to be repeated this year, which is already showing signs of being exceptionally poor. Sea-surface temperatures for January around the north of the Island show up as significantly warmer than in recent years and this has had a strong impact on the arrival of Krill from its spawning grounds around the Antarctic. An immediate and visible result has been last summer's poor breeding success of gentoo penguins along the north coast. Similar poor years occurred in the 1990s, most recently in 1998. The Commissioner wrote that he 'hoped that this will also be a one-off rather than an indication of permanent change and that GSGSSI continue to monitor the situation carefully.'


The SGA were told that South Georgia's other fisheries, for toothfish and icefish, continue to be successful.


Tourism had been a strong sector for South Georgia with around 8,500 passengers on over 70 ships visiting the Island last summer. Twenty-five yachts and 5 expeditions had also visited. The Commissioner said that passenger numbers next season are expected to fall following the departure from the region of two of the larger cruise ships. Following discussions with members of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) GSGSSI have introduced a new tourism policy document which gives a firm endorsement of IAATO’s approach to tourism, whilst retaining GSGSSI's own freedom of action to permit and regulate visits.


One of the major achievements this year had been the inauguration of the South Georgia Geographic Information System (GIS) which is available on the web. (http://www.sggis.gov.gs).


The Commissioner wrote that GSGSSI's collaboration with the EU and RSPB on work to counter invasive species in the South Atlantic draws to a close this year. This had included a comprehensive survey of flora and invertebrates by a team from Kew Gardens and Buglife International.


The Commissioner finished by saying that recently received results from blood tests of the chinstrap penguin colony at Cooper Bay, following the outbreak of avian cholera there in 2004, were negative, which means the site can be reopened to visitors in the 2009/10 season.


The Commissioners entire address to IAATO can be read here.



New Online Database For The South Georgia Museum

One of the artefacts that can be viewed on e Hive, an anorak used on the Combined Services Expedition 1964-65.
One of the artefacts that can be viewed on e Hive, an anorak used on the Combined Services Expedition 1964-65.

The South Georgia Museum has announced the launch of a new South Georgia Museum online database. The new system, called eHive, is specially designed for small collections. The system should make the Museum's collection of artefacts more accessible. eHive allows people to search, view and comment on the collection. The curator can also use the system to record related information such as acquisition details, condition reports and display history.


So far about 70 South Georgia Museum artefacts have been uploaded onto the site and more will be added in the coming months.


Through eHive the Museum can also connect to other relevant collections, such as the Falkland Islands Museum, which also plans to use eHive.


To view the collection click here.






Bird Island News

By Stacey Adlard, Penguin Zoological Field Assistant at the British Antarctic Survey Base at Bird Island.


For the wildlife on Bird Island, June is a fairly quiet month. Almost all of the skuas appear to have left the island in the last few days. The last of the grey-headed albatross chicks left their breeding colonies and the final few Southern Giant Petrel chicks fledged from their nests on the meadows. This leaves only the wandering albatross chicks sitting in their enormous nests. The monthly census on June 1st encouragingly revealed only a few to have failed since last month. The chicks are getting big now, filling out their nests with their huge grey downy bodies. Many look almost as big as their parents, although they will remain in their nests until Christmas. Sometimes they stretch out their stubby little wings, looking slightly confused as to their function. It will be a long time yet before they can use them properly to glide with ease across the Southern Ocean.


Rapidly growing Wandering Albatross chick with its parent.
Rapidly growing Wandering Albatross chick with its parent.


Around the beaches, things have been getting busier. There are increasingly large numbers of terns and pintail ducks regularly feeding in the bay and even a snow petrel feeding amongst them on one occasion. A number of large male fur seals have returned to the shores, bickering between each other when their neighbour comes too close. It is good to have them back, although it will be several months yet before the females return and the real fighting begins. It is nice to walk along the beach and smell the familiar summer-time musky smell of these beasts.


Ewan has been busy this month checking the beaches daily for leopard seals. Earlier in the month we were lucky enough to see one catch and kill a not-so-lucky gentoo penguin. It was amazing to see this impressive predator at work, repeatedly lifting the penguin clean out of the water before thrashing it against the sea surface. Other leopard seals have hauled out on the snow-covered beaches to sleep. Each seal has a unique pattern of spots, so Ewan photographs them to compare with animals sighted in previous years in an attempt to understand a bit more about their behaviour. Where possible Ewan also attaches a tiny satellite tag to one of their flippers to find out a bit more about where they go during the summer.


Leopard seal on Main Bay
Leopard seal on Main Bay


The rest of us have also been busy this month. Jose and Derren have been working with the wandering albatrosses, deploying satellite tags and stomach temperature loggers and collecting diet samples from both adults and chicks to determine where the birds are feeding and what they are eating. This ties in with the gentoo penguin diet sampling myself and Jose have been doing, and the seal scat samples analysed by Ewan to give a good idea of the diet composition of a range of higher species in the Antarctic food web.


Dave, our wintering technician, is returning to the UK and will be sorely missed. I suspect the remaining four of us will quickly find out what we don’t know about how the base works!


With temperatures rising to +3 degrees a few days before the June 21st, we celebrated a mild and almost snow free mid winter. It soon turned wintery again though and now the snow is lying thick on the ground. This has been fun to play in around the base, and there have been one or two ventures up the hill to test the ski slopes.


There is plenty of wildlife action on Bird Island even in the middle of winter. See the Leopard Seal catch the penguin.



Midwinter Celebrations

KEP at midwinter. Photo Angharad Jones
KEP at midwinter. Photo Angharad Jones


KEP: Midwinter is the biggest celebration of the southern calendar. At KEP it was typical that the BAS team's hopes of time off work to celebrate coincided with a busy shipping period, and of course the exceptional events surrounding the "In Sung 22" fire, but no one let that stop the fun, it just had to be fitted round the necessary work.


The KEP midwinterers.
The KEP midwinterers.


Some light entertainment was the order of the day following the ship fire and an "In Sung 22" crew v KEP football match was arranged, from which KEP eked out a win.


The "In Sung 22" v KEP football match took place on a snow covered pitch. Photo Richy
The "In Sung 22" v KEP football match took place on a snow covered pitch. Photo Richy


The main Midwinter celebrations still began on June 21st, Midwinter’s day, with pre-dinner drinks, a casual meal and listening to the BBC World Service midwinter broadcast on the radio, but the main events were postponed a day to the 22nd when few escaped the traditional icy swim. Thank goodness for the warming sauna!


KEP winters dash into the icy ocean. Photo Steve Artis.
KEP winters dash into the icy ocean. Photo Steve Artis.


What everyone had been up to all those hours in the metal shop and chippy shop was revealed with the exchange of handmade presents. They made an impressive display of handicraft and included: a seal-shaped wooden clock; a table with inlaid picture; a hammock and stand; an amazing tin sculpture of Icefish; a brass penguin tea light holder; a walnut-wood easel/music stand; an aluminium seal sculpture and a wooden whale sculpture.


An impressive display of hand crafted midwinters presents. Photo Emma Jones.
An impressive display of hand crafted midwinters presents. Photo Emma Jones.


Dressed in our best finery we all sat to a fine Midwinters feast by candlelight.


KEP's midwinter meal. Photo Tom Marshall.
KEP's midwinter meal. Photo Tom Marshall.


The Midwinter Olympics were held on a fantastic cold and icy day. Featured events were welly wanging, curling, human downhill 10-pin (well 10-welly actually) bowling, and the downhill speed race.


Human welly skittles! Photo Richy.
Human welly skittles! Photo Richy.


There was a sushi extravaganza and quiz later the same day. The traditional pub crawl was held later in the week around seven "pubs" created for the occasion.


There were more sporting events over the following weekend; ping pong and pizza and a ski outing up Orca Peak.


Everyone went back to work on Tuesday 30th, refreshed and rejuvenated after their break.


A ski trip up Orca Peak. Photo Angharad Jones.
A ski trip up Orca Peak. Photo Angharad Jones.


The crew of the FPV "Pharos SG" joined in the fun by building an impressive snow fort that stood up well to a  barrage of snowballs.
The crew of the FPV "Pharos SG" joined in the fun by building an impressive snow fort that stood up well to a barrage of snowballs.


Bird Island: Stacey from Bird Island writes: As this is our least busy time of year we can afford a full week's holiday. We celebrated Midwinter with the giving of gifts we had made for each other. We cooked an enormous dinner and held the 2009 Bird Island Highland Games, which included: tossing the haggis; welly wanging; archery and tossing the caber, naturally all dressed in the finest Scottish outfits. Later in the week we had our traditional Midwinter swim in the sea, followed very quickly by some time in the hot-tub where we thawed out our frozen fingers and toes. We still have a few more Midwinter festivities planned, including a darts match via webcam with the base at KEP and a midwinter bar crawl with different themed bars around base.


A sunny Midwinters day on Bird Island.
A sunny Midwinters day on Bird Island.



View Of The Month

Don’t forget to see this month’s 'View of the Month' on the South Georgia Heritage Trust website.



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