Antarctic Tours Face Increased Business, Risk
Last month a Russian icebreaker with 100 tourists and scientists aboard was for a time unable to break free of sea ice. The Captain Khlebnikov was on a cruise around Antartica when cold weather and calm winds combined to lock the ship in icy grasp of the Weddell Sea.
Popular with cruise lines capitalizing on the recent surge in interest in Emperor Penguins, Antarctic cruises can cost upwards of 13,000 for an 11 day cruise, excluding airfare, yet interest in such visits remains keen.
The appeal of such travel, dubbed "ecotourism" by some, can be seen in this colorfully (albeit somewhat clumsily) worded excerpt from one of the commercial cruise lines:
In this area we meet huge table icebergs from the Ronne Ice Shelf and have good chances to spot Emperor Penguins on ice floes. When we turn north again, we visit Brown Bluff on the Antarctic Continent. We sail south and plan to offer a zodiac cruise around the rarely visited Astrolabe Island where Antarctic Fulmars, Chinstrap Penguins, Brown Skuas and Blue-eyed Shags breed and Weddell Seals and Antarctic Fur Seals haul out. In Neko Harbour and Paradise Bay we reach the southernmost area of our voyage, where we have again the opportunity to set foot on the Antarctic Continent in a magnificent landscape of huge glaciers. In this area we have good chances to see Humpback Whales and Minke Whales. . .
Visitors to the southernmost continent have increased by 22% according to one report, to nearly 50,000 people each year in 2008. Are there risks in such travel? A shortlist of recent Antarctic shipping incidents would have to include the stranding of the Ocean Nova in 2009, the grounding of the MV Ushaia in December 2008, and the collision of the MS Nordkapp in January 2007. The same report quotes Dr. John Shears of the British Antarctic Survey, who shared several concerns about increased travel in the area. Shears warned that global warming is tempting many operators to enter waters previously inaccessible. A spokesman for The Cruise People, Fred Griffin, also points out that larger ships may not have reinforced hulls, and their crews may not be adequately trained in large scale emergency evacuations.Continued on the next page