Cruise Ship Sinking Update

The M/S Explorer sank in the Bransfield Strait off King George Island, Antarctica on Friday, November 23. Canadian G.A.P. Adventures, the owner of the Liberian-registered vessel, describes the ship as "the first . . . expedition ship ever constructed . . . specifically designed for challenging marine environments and exploratory travel . . ." Thanks to a large gash in her hull caused by striking submerged ice, this innovative ship also met her end in one such challenging marine environment.

The Explorer left Ushuaia, Argentina on November 11 with more than 150 passengers and crew for a 19-day cruise retracing the explorer Ernest Shackleton's route through the Drake Passage, which runs between the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica and Cape Horn, Chile. However, the Explorer never finished what would be her final cruise because she struck ice near the South Shetland Islands on November 23, which caused a gash in her hull on her port side. The Explorer soon began taking on water and listing; a November 23 update from G.A.P. Adventures stated that the vessel was at a 90-degree list at 16:00 local time. All the passengers and crew were safely evacuated to life boats and later picked up by the cruise ship MS Nordnorge. The Explorer sank at 19:00 GMT on Friday, November 23.

Many different organizations, including the Chilean and Argentinean Navies, assisted in the rescue operation. The passengers and crew were finally taken to King George Island, where they spent the evening. In the following two days they were flown to Punta Arenas, Chile where G.A.P. Adventures, with the aid of "the consular offices of Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States" provided them with many amenities. These are described by a G.A.P. Adventures November 26 update: "While in Punta Arenas, passengers were taken by bus to hotels and given toiletries for their immediate needs. They were provided with cash to be able to purchase clothing as well as a per diem allowance for miscellaneous expenses. We were delighted to be able to persuade a local department store to open to facilitate these purchases for our passengers and this shopping excursion provided a welcome respite for many of them."

Since then, all the passengers and most of the crew, except those involved in the investigation of the accident, have been "repatriated," according to a November 29 message from Bruce Poon Tip, CEO of G.A.P. Adventures. In his letter, he thanked many for their aid in the rescue, including the "Hurtigruten and the M/S Nordnorge for responding to our distress signal," the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), and the Chilean Government.

When MarEx went online, local authorities were still combating the 1.5 km oil slick caused by the sinking. Soon after the incident, the Chilean Navy apparently sent an ice breaker to attend to the slick and collect samples of the nearby water. Environmental groups are not only concerned with the effects of the oil on the local environment, which is known for its biodiversity, but also those of the ship's sunken components, such as her heating and cooling systems. As tourism, in the form of cruises most notably, increases in the Antarctic area, some are calling for more stringent regulations on tour companies.

Though he acknowledged that "the work is not done . . . but only just beginning," Bruce Poon Tip concluded his thank you message with an artistic view of the vessel's last hours: "The Explorer left us in very dramatic fashion. She couldn't just go quietly in the night but instead, was hanging on and danced her way out of commission. She made everyone watch for just a minute to remember her history as she hung on long enough to allow all of her passengers to disembark to safety. I would expect nothing less from her." His entire address can be read here.