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Antarctica is a destination that many people dream of visiting at least once in their lifetime. It’s an awe-inspiring place, filled with incredible landscapes, unique wildlife, and a sense of isolation and wonder that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The vast, icy expanse has captured the imagination of adventurers and scientists for centuries.

As a result, it has become a popular destination for travelers looking to experience something truly extraordinary. In recent years, there has been a surge in Antarctic cruises as more people look to explore this pristine region. 

Unfortunately, this popularity has come at a cost. With the increase in tourism, there have been concerns about the safety of travelers. Deaths and injuries on Antarctic cruises have prompted investigations and raised questions about the responsibility of cruise operators and the role of the military and government in regulating this industry.

The issue of safety on Antarctic cruises gained attention in 2016 when a woman died after falling from a Zodiac boat during a shore excursion. Then, in November 2019, a passenger on board the Ocean Adventurer died. Another tragic incident occurred in February 2020, when a woman died on board the Zaandam, a Holland America Line ship. And just this year, two passengers on a cruise ship operated by Hurtigruten, a Norwegian company, died after their Zodiac boat capsized during a landing in the South Shetland Islands in February. 

What happened? Are Antarctic trips inherently more dangerous? Or did the cruise lines in question neglect passenger safety?

The U.S. Military and the Coast Guard Get Involved

As a response to the growing number of incidents, the US military launched an investigation into the safety of Antarctic cruises. Conducted by the United States Southern Command, the investigation examined a number of aspects of the cruises, including:

  • Crew training and experience
  • Safety equipment on board the ships
  • Procedures for handling emergencies

The results of this investigation have not been made public. However, it is clear there are safety concerns about these voyages.

Besides the military investigation, the US Coast Guard has also been involved. In early 2020, they sent a team to Ushuaia, Argentina, to investigate the death of the passenger on the Ocean Adventurer. The team conducted a thorough review of the ship’s safety procedures and equipment, and made a number of recommendations to improve safety on future voyages.

When Traveling to an Adventurous Location, Danger Is Part of the Equation

These incidents are a reminder that travel to Antarctica comes with risks. The extreme environment, with its ice, wind, and waves, can be dangerous for even the most experienced sailors and passengers. In addition, the remoteness of the region means that help may be hours or even days away in the event of an emergency.

However, it is important to note that these incidents are relatively rare. Hundreds of thousands of people have visited Antarctica in recent years, and the vast majority have returned safely. 

And while there is always a risk when traveling to a place as remote and extreme as Antarctica, many people believe that the rewards of such a journey are well worth the potential dangers.

Plus, while some risks are inherent, that just means that companies profiting from tourism in the area need to be even more safety-conscious.

How Cruise Lines and Excursion Companies Can Make the Trip Safer for Passengers

What can be done to improve safety on Antarctic cruises? 

Thorough Crew Training. All crew members should be required to receive thorough training in the specific challenges of operating in this environment. What does that mean specifically? For one, training in emergency procedures, such as man-overboard drills and the use of safety equipment like life rafts and survival suits. 

Required Safety Technology. Ships should be equipped with the latest safety technology, such as high-tech navigation systems and satellite communication equipment.

Mandatory Passenger Notification. Another important step is to make sure that passengers are properly informed about the risks of travel to Antarctica. While it is important not to scare people, it is also vital for them to understand what they are getting themselves into.

Are Companies Engaging in Antarctic Tourism Liable for Injuries and Deaths?

Critics argue that the industry is poorly regulated and that cruise operators prioritize profits over safety. They point to the lack of industry standards and the absence of an independent regulatory body to oversee the industry. 

They also question the responsibility of governments and research organizations, such as the BAS, in ensuring the safety of passengers and crew.

Proponents of Antarctic tourism argue that it provides an opportunity for people to experience the unique beauty and biodiversity of the region. They point out that responsible operators prioritize safety and environmental protection, and that many of them work closely with scientists to educate their passengers about the importance of preserving the Antarctic ecosystem. 

They also note that tourism can provide a valuable source of income for local communities and contribute to the global effort to conserve the planet.

Despite these arguments, it is clear that there is a need for greater oversight and regulation of Antarctic tourism. One way to push for those things to happen: hit cruise lines and excursion companies where it hurts if you are injured – their wallets.

Filing personal injury and wrongful death claims is not only a way to recover damages related to medical bills, lost income, and more, but also your way to hold responsible parties accountable – and hopefully encourage them to change their ways and be more safety-minded. After all, if it costs businesses more to ignore safety, eventually they will prioritize it to protect their bottom line.


About the Author:

Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm Winston Law. For over 20 years, he has successfully represented countless people in all personal injury cases, focusing on child injury, legal malpractice, and premises liability. He has been recognized for excellence in representing injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and named one of America’s Top 100 High-Stakes Litigators. Mr. Winston is AV Preeminent Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, enjoys a 10.0 rating by AVVO as a Top Personal Injury Attorney, and has been selected as a Florida “SuperLawyer” from 2011-2022– an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state – was voted to Florida Trend’s ”Legal Elite,” recognized by Expertise as one of the 20 Best Fort Lauderdale personal injury attorneys, named one of the Top 100 Lawyers in the Miami area for 2015-2022, and one of the Top 100 Lawyers in Florida for 2015-2017 and 2019-2022.