An investigation conducted by the Liberian Bureau of Maritime Affairs into the circumstances of the sinking of M/V Explorer concluded that the decision by the Master to enter the ice field based on his knowledge and information available at the time was the primary reason why the Explorer suffered the casualty.
The Liberian registered cruise ship, which was on an 18 day round trip voyage from Ushuaia, Argentina to areas in Antarctica, sank on November 23, 2007 in a position 25 miles southeast of Penguin Island in the Bransfield Strait near the South Shetland Islands, in about 1,300 meters of water. All 54 crew and 100 passengers were forced to abandoned ship into lifeboats and RIB’s and were later rescued by the Norwegian registered Nordonorge.
As stated in the investigation report:
[The Master] was under the mistaken impression that he was encountering first year ice when in fact,… [the ice] was much harder land ice. The ice pilot who made the assessment of the passenger video also believed that the ice was thicker and harder than the Master’s assessment… The Master of the eco-cruise ship M/V Explorer was very experienced in Baltic waters but he was unfamiliar with the type of ice he encountered in Antarctic waters. The Master should have altered course to open water and not have entered the ice field during darkness. However, once he had entered the ice field and approached the “wall of ice”, there is no indication that he reduced the Explorer’s speed as he approached and then made contact with the “wall of ice”.
The video referred to, to our knowledge, has not been made public by the ship owner. The report went on to say that the Master and crew should be recognized for the actions taken to ensure the safety and survival of the passengers on board.
The Master’s decision to have the passengers abandon the vessel as well as the Engine Crews efforts to restore and maintain power so that the passengers could be successfully abandoned into lifebaots, in all likelihood, saved lives.
You can download the full report HERE, as made available by The Bureau of Maritime Affairs.
A couple items to note:
- The ship had controllable pitch propellers and at some point the control was lost putting the ship in full astern.
- It appears from the report that only one of the lifeboats engines was able to be started.
- There were scuppers in the internal decks (referred in the report as down flooding ducts) that sent flood water into the machinery spaces from the upper decks causing problems later on since the pumps could not handle the flooding.
- The Engineering crew really were heros in this whole operation by keeping the plant running, etc.
- The Captain seems to have intentionally left the VDR onboard.
- Progressive flooding through the ship’s sewage system made saving the ship impossible as every toilet, sink and shower drain started to back up.
The news reports at the time gave the impression that the ship was in mostly open water and just happen to hit some ice but as you can see from the photos in the report, the vessel was in ice.
Thank you to Fred Fry for help with this post.