Safety fears over cruise ships sailing to Antarctica

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The Independent Online

Large cruise ships that take hundreds of passengers to see the ice-covered wonders of Antarctica are sailing into a potential disaster zone without taking adequate safety precautions, experts warned yesterday.

Large cruise ships that take hundreds of passengers to see the ice-covered wonders of Antarctica are sailing into a potential disaster zone without taking adequate safety precautions, experts warned yesterday.

Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) said that many cruise liners are recklessly venturing into some of the most inhospitable waters in the world.

John Shears, a BAS researcher who has investigated the effects of tourism on the Antarctic, said that many people are coming to the southern continent on ships that would fail some safety inspections.

Some of the cruise liners do not have strengthened hulls to protect against icebergs and pack ice and many are crewed by staff who are inadequately trained for the extreme conditions that can sudden affect the Antarctic coastline.

"There are some tour ships which are outside the control of the International Association for Antarctic Tour Operators and that gives us particular concerns," Dr Shears told the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Salford University.

"We've been involved with Antarctic Treaty inspections where we've found that ships don't have the right charts, that people haven't had the right training and they don't have the proper safety gear on board," he said.

"It's a problem if we get a major shipping disaster - how we can rescue people because there is no search-and-rescue facilities except those provided by national operators. We'd have to drop science programmes so that we could go and rescue people."

Some cruise ships can carry up to 1,000 passengers as well as several hundred crew members, so any accidents could severely overstretch local resources. "If the tour operators take proper precautions, take proper advice and have people properly trained, then fine," Dr Shears said.

"We're pressing for an Antarctic shipping code so that regulations are in place giving codes of conduct for large tour vessels operating in that area," he said.

Many parts of the Antarctic coastline are still uncharted.

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