Explorers’ last Antarctica cruise

Read our previous post about the sinking of the Antarctic cruise ship: the Explorer

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

You could almost say that this Antarctic cruise was really inspired by the Antarctic explorations of ill-fated adventurer Ernest Shackleton, who made repeated forays in the early 1900s and died in 1922 while trying to circumnavigate the south pole by sea.

Last Friday, the Explorer was as ill-fated as Ernest Shackleton on Thursday around midnight off King George Island in Antarctica. The cruise ship hit "something" what at first sight only made a hole of about the size of one fist. But when the cruise-ship started tilting, the captain was smart enough to start evacuation before I would have been too difficult to lower the rescue vessels on the tilted side.

antarctic cruise ship

Antarctic cruise ship Explorer

Luckily the Antarctica weather was quite good that day: although only -5C (23F) degrees : the sea was calm, which is most important when you want to embark and disembark from a big cruise ship. This made that both passengers and crew escaped unhurt after being evacuated by lifeboats from the 38-year-old vessel.

The Explorer, built in 1969 and refitted in 1993, was a "smaller cruise ship" able to enter narrower bays off the South Pole continent and on each expedition: scientists were on board to brief passengers on the region’s geology and climate change.

The abandoned Antarctica Explorer, which offered two-week Antarctica tourism cruises at a cost of only $8,000 (other sources claim to have paid $14,000 for this 19-day Antarctica adventure) per cabin, sank hours after the passengers and crew were evacuated.

life rafts

Explorer life rafts reaching the NordNorge

After spending most of that night in lifeboats they were pick up by the Norwegian Antarctica cruise ship: the Nordnorge which took the passenger to Chile’s Eduardo Frei air base in Antarctica. It still took the Nordnorge 4 and a half hour to reach the Explorer after they picked up the Explorer’s distress signal. Then only on hour was needed to collect the 154 passengers and crew, rounding up their lifeboats and rubber rafts as meanwhile the crippled Explorer listed ever more steeply to starboard.

Winds began picking up after the rescue. After midday, when the Nordnorge 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.

Meanwhile on board of the doomed Explorer, an electricity blackout due to water rushing in, stopped the bilge pumps and the Explorer went on his last voyage down under Antarctica…

Explorers’ last Antarctica cruise

antarctica cruises explorer

Antarctica Cruises Explorer

Meanwhile on board of the doomed Explorer, an electricity blackout due to water rushing in, stopped the bilge pumps and the Explorer went on his most likely last voyage down under Antarctica…

The Passengers from the Explorer Antarctica cruise ship

Antarctica airlines

Passengers from the Antarctic Explorer rest inside
the plane taking them to Punta Arenas, Chile

As by today: everybody has been airlifted already out to Chile.

Antarctic environment disaster

As usual the fragile Antarctic environment is paying the biggest price! Chile’s navy said that high seas and strong winds had already dispersed an 80-meter-by-20-meter fuel slick that had leaked from the ship. The crew of the Viel icebreaker is keeping an eye on the environmental situation. It is said that the Explorer was carrying about 48,000 gallons of marine diesel fuel…

Antarctica Explorer track record

Antarctica MapThe Explorer was a true unique Antarctica cruise ship: not your every day Disney cruise, but a ship made to get you as close as possible for an authentic Antarctic experience.

Launched in 1969 under the name Lindblad Explorer, this so called smaller Antarctica cruise ship was actually the first ship built specifically to ferry tourists to Antarctica so tourists could come up close with the Antarctic penguins.

"Small" meant 100 passengers with a crew of about 50. The modern day huge Antarctica ships like the Golden Princess, carries 2,500 passengers and about 1,200 crew members.

Many of the large cruise ships now visiting Antarctica have little or no ice reinforcement in their designs. These humongous cruise ships generally stay well offshore and only come to the Antarctic continent at the height of summer..

Although the Explorer is not a real icebreaker (which is why I preferred to travel with a real icebreaker like the ones from Quark Expedition (read further at my Quark Expedition) !), Finland and Sweden had certified the Explorer at the highest rating given for non-icebreakers.

Now that the Explorer disappeared beneath the polar region’s waters, it sadly became the first commercial passenger Antarctica ship to sink on the South Pole.

Why did the Explorer Antarctica ship sink?

Watertight compartments were supposed to contain the water and allow the Explorer to remain afloat in case of leakage.

But Leif Skog, who captained the ship while it was owned by Lindblad Expeditions of Seattle, said that the Explorer was designed to withstand the flooding of just one compartment. Any leakage of water into adjoining compartments,
he said, would be sufficient to sink the ship.

The compartment must be completely watertight,” said Captain Skog,
Lindblad’s vice president of marine operations. “If you have a crack between two compartments, you have a problem.

On the other hand: nobody owns Antarctica so there is no law enforcement. Although there is some goodwill amongst the nations, the Explorer was registered in a non-treaty country like Liberia…

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