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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 November 2007, 15:22 GMT
Chile to airlift rescued tourists
M/S Explorer listing - 23/11/07
The Explorer lay on its side in the frozen seas for several hours
The Chilean air force is preparing to fly dozens of passengers and crew rescued from a cruise ship that sank in the Antarctic Ocean to Chile.

The 154 tourists and crew from the M/S Explorer have been spending the night at Chilean and Uruguayan military bases on King George Island in Antarctica.

They will be flown to Punta Arenas on the mainland by military transport planes once weather conditions improve.

The ship's operator Gap Adventures said those rescued were in "good spirits".

Some 23 Britons, 17 Dutch and 13 Americans were among those on board the ship, which sank after hitting an iceberg.

There were also 10 Australians and 10 Canadians and other nationalities included Irish, Danish, Swiss, Belgian, Japanese, French, German and Chinese, said Gap Adventures, a Toronto-based tour company.

All 91 passengers, nine guides and 54 crew members were safely evacuated to lifeboats, and then to another ship, after the Explorer was holed close to the South Shetland Islands.

The ship listed, lay on its side for some hours and by Friday night the Chilean navy said it had sunk.


Following the news of the incident, the specialist Lloyds List maritime publication said the 2,400-tonne Explorer had had five faults at its last inspection.

However, the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), whose inspectors found the faults, said that they had all been rectified by the time the ship set sail again.
Two passengers from the cabins down below came in wet, shouting: 'There's water, there's water!
Andrea Salas
Argentine guide

"It would not have been allowed to depart if everything had not been sorted out," MCA spokesman Mark Clarke said.

A Gap Adventures spokesman, John Warner, said the ship, which had been sailing in polar waters since the 1960s, had been certified as seaworthy only last month.

"The ship obviously goes through an annual rigorous inspection by the marine authorities," he told BBC News.

"What I am pleased to say is that the safety procedures for such an incident were adhered to, and all the passengers and crew are safe and well."

Below freezing

The tour group had embarked from Ushuaia, on Argentina's southern tip, on 11 November for a 19-day "Spirit of Shackleton" cruise through the Drake Passage, costing from around $8,000 (3,900) per cabin.

The ship ran into trouble approximately 120km (75 miles) north of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The company said pumps had been used in an effort to stop the ship sinking, but in the meantime the captain gave the order to abandon ship, and passengers were transferred to lifeboats.


After several hours bobbing on the sea amid floating sheets of ice, they were plucked to safety by the Norwegian cruise ship, the Nordnorge.

Coastguards said although the weather conditions were good for this time of year, the average temperature was still -5C.

Passenger Gillian Plants, 40, of Manchester, England, praised the ship's captain for the way the evacuation was handled.

She told the BBC News website: "There was no panic at all and no injuries. Everybody is perfect, no bruises, no scratches."

She said the evacuees, clad in protective suits, passed the four-and-a-half-hour wait to be rescued by watching for whales.

She described how one man, a Danish passenger, proposed to his girlfriend in the lifeboat, having remembered to take the engagement ring with him when they were evacuated.

Argentine guide Andrea Salas, who was also on the ship, told Argentina's Radio Continental she was in the bar having a drink "when two passengers from the cabins down below came in wet, shouting: 'There's water, there's water!'

"We ran out to see what was happening - and there was this hole in the cabins down below. The cabins were already quite flooded."

She said: "There were people suffering from hypothermia and it felt like an eternity until the boats came to the rescue."

Graphic: MV Explorer
Built: 1969, Finland
Capacity: 100 passengers
Tonnage: 2,400
Cruising speed: 11 knots
Engines: 3,800 hp diesels
Crew: 54
First custom-built expedition ship
Known as the 'Little Red Ship' to aficionados
Became the first passenger vessel to navigate the North West passage in 1984
Involved in rescue of crew from Argentine cargo vessel off Anvers Island, Antarctica, in 1989

The captain of the vessel talks about the rescue

Cruise ship 'fit for conditions'
24 Nov 07 |  Highlands and Islands
Stricken Antarctic ship evacuated
24 Nov 07 |  Americas
In pictures: Antarctic ship rescue
23 Nov 07 |  In Pictures
Rescue aided from 8,000 miles away
23 Nov 07 |  Cornwall
Your Explorer pictures
23 Nov 07 |  In Pictures

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