Antarctic Cruises: Disaster Waiting To Happen?

With each passing year, more and more adventurous travelers are heading to Antarctica and the icy waters of the Southern Ocean for the unique opportunity of visiting a place that few ever get to see with their own eyes. There has been a lot of discussion in recent years as to the impact of tourism on the fragile environments of the region, but several incidences in recent years call into question the safety of the travelers themselves.

Men’s Journal magazine recently took a look at those dangers wondering “How Long Before the Next Titantic?” The article discusses a couple of high profile accidents in the Southern Ocean, most notably last year’s sinking of the MS Explorer, which sunk rapidly, after it struck an iceberg back in November of 2007. There were a 154 people on board, including passengers and crew. Miraculously, no one was harmed, and rescue ships were on the scene in a matter of hours.

The sinking of the Explorer isn’t the only incident however, either. In January of 2007, the MS Nordkapp struck rocks near Deception Isle, and in December of last year the MV Ushuaia ran aground near Cape Anna as well. Once again, in both cases, no one was hurt, but it makes you wonder if it’s only a matter of time before disaster really does strike.

The Men’s Journal article notes that Antarctic tourism has risen 500% in just 15 years, and that more than 50 ships now operate in the Southern Ocean, shuttling 40,000 passengers in 2008 alone. With that many ships and that many people in such a remote place, are we playing with fire?