Ship hits ice, sinks

all 154 safe

Passengers, some American, are saved by cruise vessel

November 24, 2007|By New York Times News Service.

They were modern adventure travelers, following the doomed route of Ernest Shackleton to the frozen ends of the Earth.

They paid $7,000 to $16,000 to cruise on a ship that had proudly plowed the Antarctic for 40 years.

But sometime early yesterday, the Explorer, fondly known in the maritime world as "the little red ship," quietly struck ice.

There were the alarms, then the captain's voice on the public address system calling all 154 passengers and crew to the lecture hall, according to passenger accounts on the radio and others relayed from rescuers and the tour operator.

In the lecture hall, they were told that water was creeping in through a fist-size hole punched into the ship's starboard. As it flooded the grinding engine room, the power failed. The ship ceased responding.

"We all got a little nervous when the ship began to list sharply, and the lifeboats still hadn't been lowered," John Cartwright, a Canadian, told CBC radio.

About 1:30 a.m., the passengers climbed down ladders on the ship's side into open lifeboats and inflatable craft.

They bobbed for four hours in the rough seas and biting winds as the sun rose and the day broadened, sandwiched between the 20-degree air and the nearly freezing waters..

And then a research ship and a Norwegian cruise liner approached after hearing the distress call.

It was not immediately possible yesterday to reach the passengers, among them 14 Americans, 24 Britons, 12 Canadians, and a smattering of other nationalities. But they were in good spirits, said Capt. Arnvid Hansen of the cruise ship Nordnorge, who was reached by phone about 10 hours after the rescue.

The weather turned worse, he said, but despite snow and wind, the passengers had begun to leave the ship for the solid ground of King George Island. Authorities said they would travel to Chile today, weather permitting, and then return home.

The accident occurred north of the Antarctic Circle in an island chain that is part of the Antarctic peninsula, which juts close to South America and where a sharp warming of temperatures has occurred in recent years.

The tour operator, GAP Adventures, is based in Toronto.

The Explorer is registered in Liberia. Built in Finland in 1969, it was designed to operate in Antarctic and Arctic waters, said GAP spokesman Dan Brown.

There appeared to be questions about its safety record. Brown said "some deficiencies" were found in tests in March in Chile and in May in Scotland.

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