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Doomed Ship Defies Antarctica Odds

By FEDERICO QUILODRAN,
Reuters
Posted: 2007-11-25 08:45:00
Filed Under: World News
PUNTA ARENAS, Chile (Nov. 25) - A rare calm in Antarctic seas and the swift response by a passing ship helped save all aboard a Canadian cruise liner that struck an iceberg in the night and sank, rescued passengers and experienced sailors said Saturday.

Photo Gallery: Accident in Antarctica

Chile's Air Force / AP

The Explorer, a Canadian cruise ship, struck an iceberg and sunk in Antarctic's icy waters on Friday. All 154 passengers and crew survived a harrowing rescue.

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The MS Explorer, a Canadian-operated cruiser built in 1969 as a pioneer among rugged go-anywhere tourist ships that plied waters from the Amazon to the Arctic and Antarctic circles, struck ice Friday, took on water and dipped beneath the waves more than 15 hours later.

All 154 passengers and crew spent hours bobbing in life rafts on chilly seas before a Norwegian cruise ship plucked them up shivering but safe and took them to two military bases on King George Island for flights out.

A Chilean air force plane flew the first 77 survivors to the South American mainland Saturday from the island 660 miles south of here. The rest were to be flown out Sunday.

American Ely Chang of Urban, Calif. was among the first to get out of a Chilean Hercules C-130 in Punta Arenas, clutching his life jacket like a precious souvenir and reminder of anxious hours spent adrift.

"It was very cold but I'm so happy because we all survived this and everyone's all right. Now I'm going home," he said.

Dutch citizen Jan Henkel said he decided to propose to his girlfriend Mette Larsen after they survived the ordeal.

"There were some very frightening moments but the crew was very professional and the captain very good and had everything under control," said Henkel.

Others in Antarctica counted the survivors lucky.

"They were fortunate because other ships just happened to be in the area and came to their aid rapidly," said Lieutenant Col. Waldemar Fontes, chief of the small Uruguayan base where the rescued tourists and crew took shelter overnight. "The seas were calm and there weren't any storms. That doesn't happen often in Antarctica."

Capt. Arnvid Hansen, whose cruise ship Nordnorge rescued the castaways, said Explorer's distress call came hours before dawn and he steamed 4 1/2 hours "full ahead" to the rescue before weather could close in.

"We have to work together with the forces of nature, not against them," Hansen said.

He said blinding sleet, fog, high winds and treacherous seas are common in Antarctica, Earth's windiest continent, even in the October-to-April "summer" when cruise ships flock to the area by the dozens.

"I've been a captain for four seasons in Antarctica," Hansen said. "It's not dangerous but sometimes it's tricky and it's a challenge."

Hansen said calm seas and benevolently light winds prevailed as his crew took just an hour to collect the 154 passengers and crew, rounding up their lifeboats and rubber rafts as the crippled Explorer listed every more steeply to starboard, its hull gashed.

High seas would have made picking up the lifeboats much trickier and would have exposed the castaways to brutally cold weather and the chance of hypothermia.

Instead it was over barely before passengers aboard the Norwegian rescue vessel could finish breakfast, with many watching the orderly rescue through portal windows.

Shortly after the rescue though, winds began picking up considerably. After midday, when he reached a Chilean base at King George Island nearby, the winds and waters were so rough the captain had to wait hours to unload the passengers.

"The weather can change in a half hour in Antarctica and you never know if we are going to have it very good one moment or very bad," Hansen said.

On board the Explorer, a blackout had been triggered by water rushing in, shutting down bilge pumps of the doomed ship, Hansen said.

First reports suggested only a small hole was punched into the Explorer's hull, but the Argentine navy later said it received reports of greater damage as the ship slowly turned on its side and sank Friday evening.

Jerry DeCosta, vacationing on the Explorer, told The Associated Press from the bigger Chilean base nearby that passengers were grateful the rescue went so smoothly.

"Everything was done right: The captain got everybody off and the weather was ideal. It was a fluke of nature and luckily we got out," he said, marveling at Nordnorge's swift response. "We sent out a distress call and people came to help."

Guillermo Tarapow, captain of an Argentine navy icebreaker, Almirante Irizar, that caught fire last April 10 off Patagonia while returning from Antarctica, said he thought the dangers of castoff Antarctic ice to shipping were on the rise.

Tarapow, who saved his stricken ship from sinking and won praise for safely evacuating his 296 passengers, said he has seen a dramatic increase in the number of icebergs over 20 years and blamed climate change.

"You now see many more icebergs ... where there didn't use to be. It makes navigation difficult and they are all very dangerous," Tarapow told AP.

Susan Hayes of G.A.P. Adventures of Toronto, which runs environmentally oriented excursions and owns the stricken MS Explorer, said all passengers were accounted for and doing well.

She said the ship's 91 passengers hailed from more than a dozen nations, including 24 Britons, 17 Dutch, 14 Americans, 12 Canadians and 10 Australians. The ship also carried nine expedition staff members and a crew of 54.

The Explorer was on a 19-day circuit of Antarctica and the Falkland Islands, letting passengers observe penguins, whales and other wildlife.

Copyright 2007 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. All active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.
2007-11-23 06:12:36
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Recent Comments

1 - 10 of 3671
3671 comments

barbsweetpea 10:25:29 PM Nov 26 2007

This would be a good, sort of exciting trip for someone who is near death or suicidal anyway. Hey, I just thought of a great business venture! Featured ad: "Cruising, what a way to go!"

debbie821218 09:23:10 PM Nov 26 2007

Reportedly, when the issue happened, a man on that board was dating a good-looking gal online site like (Millionairematch.com/photo/bloger ), a dating site for celebrities and wealthy singles to mingle. How romantic it is like the movie.

amtory1 06:01:15 PM Nov 26 2007

This ship was designed to operate close to icebergs, just like the Titanic!!!

hccharles3 11:49:57 AM Nov 26 2007

The Love Boat went on the Jerry Springer show, and look what happened.

moosecov 11:48:17 AM Nov 26 2007

If god were so involved why did he let it sink and pollute the ocean??

teda532 09:02:11 AM Nov 26 2007

being in an ice field put passengers at an unecessary risk.

teda532 09:00:27 AM Nov 26 2007

"as a pioneer among rugged go-anywhere tourist ships that plied waters from the Amazon to the Arctic" - why would a cruise ship be in an ice field ??????????? eveidently it WAS NOT a "go anywhere ship".

perfectwatersong 04:39:00 AM Nov 26 2007

"Fluke" weather? Sounds more like somebody on board knew how to pray and had some FAITH in a God who saves! All planes, trains and ships should have a free seat for anyone who knows how to pray effectively and with power. And, isn't it interesting how no one cries out BUDDHAAA!! when the plane is going down?

BSCHNAUTZ 01:21:25 AM Nov 26 2007

hccharles3 10:52:05 PM Nov 25 2007
Just what we need, another reason to make a sequel to "Titanic." Titanic Revisited.."

For the 86th time.

sweatshirt01 01:20:31 AM Nov 26 2007

I am afraid the new cruise ship designs which feature huge atriums extending from top deck to bottom deck in the center of the ships, is a disaser whch is going to eventually happen. I predict that one of these behemoth ships will crack along that atrium and sink very quickly, resulting in the deaths of thousands of people.

1 - 10 of 3671
3671 comments

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