MV Explorer (1969) - Sinking


Explorer departed from Ushuaia, Argentina on November 11, 2007 on a 19-day cruise intended to trace the route of 20th century explorer Ernest Shackleton through the Drake Passage (an area typically stormy with rough seas). After visiting the Falkland Islands and South Georgia she hit an iceberg in the Bransfield Strait close to King George Island in the Southern Ocean, near the South Shetland Islands, on November 23, 2007. The object struck by the Explorer made a reported 10-by-4-inch (25 by 10 cm) gash in the hull which allowed water to enter. The Argentine navy later said in a statement it observed "significant" damage.

Passengers on the Explorer reported a loud "bang" at the time of impact, although others reported that there had been no noticeable impact, or at least nothing more than the normal crunching of ice experienced when sailing through icy waters. One passenger reported sea water in the cabin at about 03:00 UTC. Some reports also indicate that the ship drifted into an iceberg on the Explorer's starboard side while the crew was assessing damage caused by the original impact also to the starboard side of the ship.

A mayday call was put out by the ship at 04:24 UTC, and rescue operations were quickly coordinated by the Prefectura Naval (Coast Guard Corps) of the Argentine Republic, and the Chilean Navy Center for Search and Rescue. Chile dispatched the icebreaker Almirante Viel, and nearby commercial ships including the MN Ushuaia, the National Geographic Endeavor, and the Norwegian Coastal Express ship MS Nordnorge which was operating as a passenger cruise ship at the time. By 07:30 UTC, all 91 passengers, 9 guides and 54 crew, from over 14 countries, were evacuated and had taken to the Explorer's lifeboats. The evacuees drifted for 5 hours until they were picked up by the Norwegian ship MS Nordnorge which arrived on scene at approximately 10:00 UTC.

All of those rescued by Nordnorge were taken to the Chilean Frei Montalva Station on King George Island where they were subsequently airlifted by C-130 Hercules transport aircraft of the Chilean Air Force to Punta Arenas, Chile in two separate flights, one on Saturday 24 November and the other on Sunday 25 November. Those passengers not taken to Punta Arenas (an estimated 70) were taken to Uruguay's Artigas Base. The Explorer was completely submerged at 19:00 UTC, approximately 20 hours after the initial impact and damage to its hull.

The Explorer was designed, like most ships, with compartments which could be sealed off by watertight doors; the ship would not sink if holed and one compartment flooded, but was not safe if more compartments were flooded, either by a gash spanning compartments or imperfect sealing between compartments. GAP reported that there was a crack in addition to the hole, but it is not clear if it spanned compartments.

In an article published on 8 December 2007, experts consider that the Explorer was "perfect for ice navigation", and consider that the explanation of the sinking "doesn't add up" and that "essential pieces of the story are missing".

Read more about this topic:  MV Explorer (1969)

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