A Wild Rescue in Antarctica

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  11.24.07 | 2:45 PM ET

imageThe hole in the cruise ship’s hull was “about the size of a fist,” according to a spokeswoman for the ship’s owner. If true, that’s all it took to sink the nearly 40-year-old Explorer, the first cruise ship built to ferry passengers in icy Antarctic waters. The G.A.P. Adventures-owned ship was in the midst of a 19-day “Spirit of Shackleton” trip when it hit submerged ice before dawn Friday, the Los Angeles Times reports. So began a harrowing ordeal that should put the usual Thanksgiving week travel headaches—congested highways, airport delays, etc.—into perspective.

The ship’s 154 passengers and crew evacuated into lifeboats. Hours later, a Norwegian ship responding to distress calls picked them up—“a little bit cold and wet, but in good condition,” according to the Norwegian ship’s captain. They were delivered safely to King George Island.

The New York Times quotes Jon Bowermaster, a travel writer and filmmaker who was aboard the National Geographic Endeavour, another ship that responded to distress calls, as saying: “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.”

The Times reports that the ship’s passengers—“modern adventure travelers”—paid $7,000 to $16,000 for the cruise.

So what went wrong?

That will no doubt be the subject of a lengthy investivation.

CruiseCritic.com notes conflicting accounts of the damage done to the ship. An official with the Argentine navy apparently claimed the damage was “significant.”

The site notes:

Also, at Explorer’s last inspection in May, watertight doors were described as “not as required,” according to news reports—though Gap Adventures does maintain that all problems were fixed before the vessel was allowed to sail.

According to Cruise Critic’s account, Tia Serena posted on the Cruise Critic forum that she once worked on the Explorer and there were “some concerns over hull integrity at the time, but I am still surprised to hear that a bit of ice broke her hull, after all it was steel plate inches thick (at least on the bow…).”

She also noted that some who work in the Antarctic are concerned about increasing ship traffic and the lengthening cruising season. “When I started working on expedition ships in 1993,” she reportedly wrote, “nobody would think of starting a cruise so early in November.”

Related on World Hum:
* A Brief and Awkward Tour of the End of the Earth
* From Antarctica to the Silk Road: More from the New York Times ‘Photography Issue’

Related on TravelChannel.com:
* Extreme Cruises: The Arctic and Antarctica

Photo: AP.

2 Comments for A Wild Rescue in Antarctica

craig of travelvice.com 12.05.07 | 2:55 PM ET

An interesting collection of photos from this event can be found here:


Ireq 05.16.08 | 6:51 PM ET

Thanks God that all the passengers were plucked to safety and nobody really got killed. Photos look serious. It looks like a hole in a ship’s hull “about the size of a fist,” is enough to sink the whole ship.

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