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Antarctic base bars ban alcohol sales

The National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station has banned the sale of alcoholic drinks from its bars to resident scientists in an effort to clamp down on alleged incidents of sexual assault.

The base, situated on Ross Island, is the US’ scientific research facility in Antarctica, and can host up to 1,500 residents at a time. Around 70% of those resident at any time are men.

The facility made headlines recently due to a report from The Associated Press last month concerning instances of women working in Antarctica being sexually assaulted. According to a 2022 report from the US’s National Science Foundation, which oversees the Antarctic programme of which McMurdo Station is a part, 59% of female employees said that they had been harassed or assaulted by colleagues.

Now, in a bid to stop the problem, restrictions on alcohol sales have been imposed upon all of the base’s residents.

From Sunday (1 October), those at McMurdo Station will not be able to buy alcoholic drinks from its bars, with only non-alcoholic options being served.

Workers at the base will still be able to buy the permitted alcohol ration of 18 beers, three 75cl bottles of wine, or one 75cl bottles of spirits per week. They will also be able to bring these drinks to its two main bars, Exposure and Gallagher’s, but the Coffee House, another site which has served alcoholic drinks, will be entirely alcohol-free from now on.

However, not everyone is convinced that the measures will be sufficient. Jennifer Sorensen, who reported to The Associated Press that she was raped while working at the base in 2015, said: “They know full well that all the rationing or denial of alcohol sales being forced on us isn’t going to do a damn thing.”

“Alcohol can obviously blur the lines of consent, there’s that issue at play, but overwhelmingly, sexual assault has occurred even when neither party has been consuming alcohol, as was the case with me. So it’s definitely not going to eliminate the problem,” Sorensen explained.

In 2021, the Australian Antarctic Division halved the alcohol allowance permitted at its bases – it is currently about half what is permitted at McMurdo Station: seven cans of beer, one and a half bottles of wine, or half a bottle of spirits. The policy was implemented in an effort to curb drunken, and potentially fatal mistakes in this hostile environment.

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