Antarctica Cruise Disaster Raises Tourism Concerns

November 27, 2007

Cruise ship accidents in Antarctica may be "inevitable," at least one expert says.

The current surge in polar tourism and a reported increase in icebergs are raising safety and environmental concerns—which were brought boiling to the surface by this past weekend's sinking of the M.S. Explorer.

(Related photo gallery: Antarctic wonders lure cruise tourists.)

All 154 passengers and crew aboard the Explorer were safely plucked from lifeboats after bobbing in relatively calm seas for about five hours Friday morning. No one was injured.

Some experts consider the ship's demise a fluke—it was built to ply icy waters and was helmed by an experienced captain.

Nevertheless, the Antarctic tourism boom of recent years has made for an accident waiting to happen, according to sea explorer and writer Jon Bowermaster, a National Geographic Society Expeditions Council grantee.

Bowermaster was on the first vessel to arrive on the accident scene—the National Geographic Endeavour, operated by the Lindblad Expeditions cruise company in partnership with the National Geographic Society.

(Read Bowermaster's firsthand account of the rescue operation. National Geographic News is owned by the National Geographic Society.)

Tourism Boom

In 1992 about 6,000 tourists journeyed to Antarctica.

This cruise season—roughly November through February, during the Southern Hemisphere's summer—more than 30,000 tourists are expected to make the trek on some 50 different ships, according to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, a trade group.

Counting crew, the total number of people to visit the region may surpass 50,000.

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