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Hillary Clinton urges tougher controls on South Pole tourists

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Washington wants tighter controls on tourism in Antarctica to prevent further environmental damage.

Speaking at conference of Antarctic and Arctic powers and polar experts, Mrs Clinton said more needed to be done to prevent further degradation of the environment around Antarctica caused by the increasing numbers of vessels going to the region. "We have submitted a resolution that would place limits on landings from ships carrying large number of tourists," she said. "We have also proposed new requirements for lifeboats on tour ships to make sure they can keep passengers alive until rescue comes," she added.

Tourism to the Antarctic has increased five-fold since the early 1990s as thousands of people cruise to see icebergs and wildlife.

Last year saw a record 46,000 visitors, the majority in cruise ships. There are growing fears that it is only a matter of time before the boom results in a major maritime disaster. In the last five years there have been four incidents involving cruise ships in the Antarctic of which the sinking of the MV Explorer was the most serious.

Tourism groups argue there is no evidence that tourism damages Antarctica and point to its good safety record until the sinking of the Explorer. Nevertheless, though many government and environmental critics agree that tour operators have set themselves strict standards for operating in the area, they fear it is only time before disaster strikes.