Monday, March 23, 2009

Antarctica's Popularity Blossoms with Tourists

In a Practical Traveler column for the New York Times, Michelle Higgins explores the safety and environmental concerns associated with the boom in Antarctic tourism. The article reiterates the unfortunate truth that even small, experienced operators with ice-strengthened ships have run into trouble in the Antarctic, and quotes one small-ship operator about how rescue operations may be complicated by the advent of larger ships that hold thousands of passengers. ASOC is mentioned in the article as calling for stricter safety and environmental requirements for tour ships, but as another tour operator notes, enforcement of any regulation would be very difficult due to the remoteness of the continent. Even so, increased oversight of tourist operators is a good idea. If nothing else, consumers would be hopefully be able to choose companies that could prove they were following the regulations. Tourists wishing to sail to Antarctica on 3,000-passenger cruise ships should be aware that in the event of an accident, they might not be able to be rescued. Although the operators of such large vessels claim they take appropriate precautions, as mentioned earlier, even ships with experienced crew members and vessel safety features have gotten into trouble in the Antarctic. It's an unforgiving, unpredictable area and it's dangerous to assume that standard procedures will always work.

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