Fuerza Aerea de Chile via European Pressphoto Agency. A picture taken by the Chilean Air Force shows the Explorer, which struck an iceberg in the Antarctic Ocean.
154 Flee Sinking Ship in Antarctic
By GRAHAM BOWLEY and ANDREW C. REVKIN
Published: November 24, 2007
A small, historic cruise ship with an imperfect security record was listing dangerously after it struck ice in Antarctic waters today, with 154 passengers and crew members evacuated in a flotilla of lifeboats and inflatable boats, the cruise operator and coast guards said.
Late into the day, the small red and white ship — named the Explorer but known affectionately as “the little red ship” — was listing steeply to starboard, nearly on its side, awash in ice floes and steely gray water. The vessel — on an expedition to trace the doomed route of the explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton — sent out a distress signal in the middle of the night (5:24 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time) after it began to take in water through “a fist-sized hole,” said Dan Brown, a spokesman for G.A.P. Adventures, the Toronto-based tour operator that owns and operates the ship. He said the “running assumption” is that it hit an iceberg. Water began to trickle into a cabin and eventually flooded the engine room, causing the ship to lose power.
The accident occurred well north of the Antarctic Circle in an island chain that is part of the Antarctic peninsula, which juts close to South America and has seen sharp warming of temperatures in recent years.As the satellite distress signal was being picked up by coast guard stations in Britain; Norfolk, Va.; and Ushuaia, Argentina, the ship’s 100 passengers — 14 of them American, 24 British, 17 Dutch, 12 Canadian and a smattering of other nationalities— were awakened and told to don warm clothes and life preservers, said Mark Clark, a spokesman for Britain’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which was one of the first authorities to receive the distress signal. They clambered down ladders on the ship’s side to board lifeboats.
Mr. Clark said they were taken aboard a small research vessel, the National Geographic Endeavour, that was nearby, before they were transferred to a Norwegian cruise liner, the Nordnorge. But Mr. Brown said open lifeboats bobbed in the frigid waters for four hours before the Nordnorge could help them.
Jon Bowermaster, a travel writer and filmmaker who was lecturing on the National Geographic Endeavour, said by satellite phone: “We arrived just exactly alongside the Nordnorge. There was a long line of black rubber Zodiac boats and a handful of orange lifeboats strung out and it was very surreal because it was a very beautiful morning with the sun glistening off the relatively calm sea. and all you could think was how relieved these people must have been when they saw these two big ships coming over the horizon. They’d been in the lifeboats around four hours, but cold. the water temperature is not quite freezing and wind chills in the 20s, Fahrenheit.”
Shackleton's Endurance trapped in the Antarctic ice (c. 1915).
Passengers on the Endeavour prepared hot tea and gathered blankets, and a section of the ship was dedicated to emergency medical care. Luckily, there were no emergency cases.
In February 1972, the Explorer, then operating for a Norwegian line as the Lindblad Explorer, ran aground close to the same spot, in similar circumstances. Amid the heaving seas, all her passengers then — mostly Americans — had to be rescued by the Chilean Navy.
On Friday, it was not immediately possible to reach the Explorer’s passengers, who had paid somewhere between $8,700 and $16,700 for the 18-day adventure expedition. Mr. Brown said they were being taken to King George Island in Antarctica. He said there was confusion about where exactly they would be taken from there.
“The Chileans think they are taking them to Chile, the Argentinians think they are taking them to Argentina and the Brits are talking about taking the British passengers to the Falklands,” he said.
The Chilean authorities said the passengers were being taken to the Chilean Air Force base on King George Island, the President Eduardo Frei Montalva Base, and later the commander of the base was quoted as saying that the Norwegian ship had arrived at the shore of the base around midday, but the passengers had not been able to disembark due to bad weather conditions.
Mr. Brown said the company had not yet been able to speak to anyone on board, but some radio stations had managed to speak to the captain of the Nordnorge, and he had reported that “everyone is healthy, uninjured and comfortable,” Mr. Brown said. Their families are in the process of being notified about the accident, he said.
According to the BBC, First Officer Peter Svensson told Reuters: "We were passing through ice as usual. But this time something hit the hold and we got a little leakage downstairs.
"No one was hysterical, they were just sitting there nice and quiet, because we knew there were ships coming." [read on...]