Antarctic Tourist Ship Runs Aground; 2nd Time in a Year

Vicente L. Panetta in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Associated Press
December 5, 2008

A cruise ship stranded itself on Antartica's western peninsula on Thursday in the same spot where a ship sank in 2007.

All 122 passengers and crew were rescued from the leaking ship, Ushuaia, on Friday by the Chilean Navy. The ship is not in danger of sinking.

The Chilean vessel Aquiles transported 89 passengers and 33 crew members to the Presidente Frei Naval Base in Antarctica.

Jon Bowermaster, a National Geographic Expeditions Council grantee and writer, was on the National Geographic Explorer about 40 miles (64.3 kilometers) from the cruise ship when it ran aground, the New York Times reported. (National Geographic News is owned by the National Geographic Society.)

"We had hurricane winds yesterday—103 miles [166 kilometers] per hour and gusting—which may have contributed to the grounding," Bowermaster told the Times Thursday in an email.

Bowermaster witnessed the sinking of another Antarctic tourist vessel in November 2007. All 154 passengers of the Canadian M.S. Explorer escaped safely. (Watch a video aboard the sinking ship.)

Alarm Call

The Panamanian-flagged Ushuaia sent out alarms midday Thursday after it started leaking fuel and taking on water, but it never appeared to be in danger of sinking.

A rock damaged the hull as the vessel passed through the Gerlache Strait, Chilean Captain Pedro Ojeda told Argentina's Telam news agency. The crash left the boat adrift in Guillermina Bay.

The Chilean Navy said the cruise ship was carrying 14 Danish passengers, 12 Americans, 11 Australians, 9 Germans, 7 Argentines, 7 British, 6 Chinese, 6 Spaniards, 5 Swiss, 3 Italians, 2 French, 2 Canadians, 2 Irish, a Belgian and a New Zealander. All were in good condition.

The cruise ship, built in 1970, operates from the Port of Ushuaia in southern Argentina, transporting passengers to Antarctica and islands in the icy waters of the South Atlantic.

The navy positioned the ship Lautaro near the abandoned Ushuaia in an attempt to prevent any environmental damage from leaking fuel.

"Accident Waiting to Happen"

In addition to the 2007 sinking of the M.S. Explorer, another ship—the Norwegian M.S. Fram—lost engine power during an electrical outage in December 2007 and struck a glacier, smashing a lifeboat but causing no injuries among its 300 passengers.

A boom in Antarctic tourism may be an "accident waiting to happen," Bowermaster told National Geographic News in 2007.

More than 30,000 tourists were estimated to have made the trek to Antarctica on some 50 different ships during the November 2007 to February 2008 cruise season, according to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, a trade group.

"Many of the ships and crew newly plying the Antarctic are inexperienced with the icy conditions and fast-changing weather that are characteristic of the region," Bowermaster added.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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