Passengers rescued from stranded Antarctic cruise ship

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Panamanian-flagged cruise ship MV Ushuaia, operated by Antarpply Expeditions of Argentina, ran aground near Cape Anna at the entrance to Wilhelmina Bay. Having been stuck on rocks in the Antarctic Peninsula, it suffered a puncture in two diesel fuel tanks, and was leaking fuel and taking on a "minimal amount of water." It had two cracks, but is not in danger of sinking.

Antarctic Peninsula map

The passengers were rescued by Achiles, a Chilean Navy ship, which took them to Chile's Base Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva in Antarctica. The station has a 1300 metre-long airstrip which can facilitate airlifts for the passengers. They will be taken by a Hercules C-130 plane to the Port of Ushuaia, from which they can be flown back to South America.

Argentine Admiral Daniel Martin Alberto said that the 89 passengers onboard were all in good health. Argentina and Chile are both sending a rescue mission to the stricken ship, with 40 crew members. The Antarctic Dream, at seven nautical miles away, was reported to have changed course to collect and transfer passengers to Tierra del Fuego. However, the Chilean Navy got to Ushuaia first.

The Australian Antarctic Division announced that "as well as the New Zealander, there were 11 Australians, 12 Americans, 14 Dutch, nine Germans, seven Britons, six Chinese, six Spaniards, five Swiss, three Italians, two Irish, two French, two Canadians, a Cypriot and a Belgian. The crew consisted of 28 Argentinians, eight Chileans, three Uruguayans, and one Spaniard."

Meanwhile, Jon Bowermaster, a writer aboard the National Geographic Explorer, described the situation: "We had hurricane winds yesterday — 103 miles per hour (166 kilometres per hour) and gusting — which may have contributed to the grounding."

Although there is no major leak, containment efforts are being made by Chilean navy ship Lautaro to stem the fuel leak, which has spread for half a mile around the stranded ship. Salvaging the ship, however, was proving more of a problem.