The increasing rate of vessel incidents in the Southern Ocean (including an ever-increasing number of vessels sinking) has highlighted the potential for substantial fuel spills into the Antarctic environment. The increasing number of tourist and fishing vessels, often without ice strengthened hulls, are penetrating farther into, and staying longer in, Antarctic waters, with a focus for destinations of substantial wildlife concentrations. Based on a questionnaire comprising six questions submitted to 33 national operators in the Antarctic, there is currently little preparation for an oil spill event involving wildlife. This is a recipe for a catastrophic spill event, with the potential for high numbers of oiled wildlife in a remote part of the world where there are major logistical constraints on the provision of equipment and skilled response personnel. We chronicle shipping incidents that have led to oil spills in the Southern Ocean, the existing legislation and contingency plans currently in place by national Antarctic operators, and examine their preparedness and expertise for an oiled wildlife response. It is very clear that national, fishing and tourism operators are manifestly unprepared for an oiled wildlife event in the Southern Ocean. We identify five critical constraints to any response and provide recommendations that address these constraints.

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