Rescue Sparks Antarctic Tourism Debate: Page 2

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The headaches posed by Antarctic rescue were demonstrated when, after the Shokalskiy became mired in the ice on December 24, the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long became trapped itself while trying to help.

Antarctica is a cold, harsh place with vast changing landscapes and uncovered mysteries underneath the ice. Why wouldn't we go there?
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The two ships only managed to free themselves on Tuesday, by which time yet another vessel, the US Coast Guard's Polar Star, was steaming to their aid from Sydney.

Half of the 52 people rescued from the Shokalskiy last week were paying passengers and Frenot labelled the voyage a "pseudo-scientific expedition", a charge denied by its Australian organisers.

They said their mission was to examine environmental changes by replicating measurements taken in the area a century ago by explorer Douglas Mawson.

Ligget said Shokalskiy travelled into an area not normally frequented by tourist or scientific ships, which contributed to it becoming trapped.

She said cruise ships approved by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) usually travelled in pairs, so they had a "buddy system" if one experienced difficulties.

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She said the IAATO, an industry body, had done a good job of minimising environmental impacts.

"It's essentially the scenery, the wildlife and a relatively unspoiled environment that they're selling to their tourists," she said. "So it's in their best interests to keep it that way."

IAATO spokeswoman Amanda Lynnes said tourist ships adopted strict decontamination measures to prevent travellers taking non-native species or microbes ashore.

She added that ships carrying more than 500 passengers did not put tourists ashore, while those on smaller vessels who did land had to follow guidelines designed to protect flora and fauna.

In addition, ships must employ officers with Antarctic experience and have plans to contain any oil leaks.

Lynnes said tourism acted as a driving force in conservation by giving people first-hand experience of the Antarctic.

"Visitors to Antarctica ... return home as ambassadors of goodwill, guardianship and the value of peaceful cooperation in this great wilderness," she said.

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