M/S Explorer Sinks in the Bransfield Strait off King George Island, Antarctica

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.

G.A.P. AdventuresMany 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.

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.


November 29, 2007

We are pleased to advise that all our passengers have been repatriated. Except for those crew assisting in the investigation, the crew have also been repatriated.

We have been flooded with prayers and warm wishes from every part of the world for our passengers and crew. There are so many people to thank. And I want to make sure it is done publicly and from the bottom of my heart and everyone else's here at G.A.P Adventures. It really took a village and there are so many people that without a second thought joined us in our mission to get everyone home safe. It was a raw display of human kindness and a deep compassion to help their fellow man.

First of all, I have to thank our crew aboard the M/S Explorer. What can I say except you proved once again why people joined us over and over on the Explorer. While investigations are ongoing, I can only say that the success of the evacuation was mainly due to your decision making, execution of emergency procedures and commitment to safety and the well being of our travelers.

I also have to thank Hurtigruten and the M/S Nordnorge for responding to our distress signal. And then agreeing to take in our passengers without question or hesitation. The call we received in our office prior to our boarding was one of great concern and understanding that, even though we didn't know each other, we would be partners in this rescue. We spoke as if we had known each other for years and came to quick solutions to everything that needed to be done. With that comes a special thanks to Tomas Holik at Hurtigruten in Buenos Aires who in the initial hours was invaluable to us.

We would also like to thank IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) and all the other ships that responded and made their way to our site. Denise Landau of IAATO was of special note for her constant concern, support and willingness to do whatever we needed in a time of crisis. She was, on behalf of IAATO, a wealth of information and constant companion in our time of need.

The Chilean Government, Navy, Base Commander in King George Island , and Uruguayan Base Commander and Government were all of great help to us. They always remained cooperative, professional and with a true desire for a positive outcome. They welcomed our people on the ground in Punta Arenas and gave us all the support we needed to be successful.

I save the best for last, however, and that is to thank our travelers aboard the M/S Explorer. For your courage, tenacity and spirit of adventure. I was amazed at the first interview with the BBC by Gillian Plant. Gillian commented, "the passengers were enjoying the best experience of their lives." That was received with cheers here as we worked tirelessly through the night to deliver on our promise to get you all home safely. People like Gillian inspire us to achieve great things. So, I want to thank you again for staying with us and allowing us to shine in an emergency situation.

Amongst the G.A.P Adventures people there are just too many people to mention. Everyone counted, and everyone stepped up as I knew they would when the company called. The Explorer leaves us still with a mountain to climb, however. The work is not done...but only just beginning. I implore everyone to bind together and continue to show our commitment to excellence. I am proud not only of what we have accomplished as a team but proud to be leading all of you. It is my honor.

I would also like to thank all of our travelers for their support and kind words. For your continued dedication and the trust you bestow upon us. This is something that we never take for granted. We could not possibly respond to all of the emails, so please accept this as a universal thank you for being behind us and sending positive energy our way.

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. The Explorer has been a big part of our history as a company and represented the true spirit of what makes our company special. We thank everyone who has been part of making it happen over the years.

Bruce Poon Tip



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