Britons Rescued as Cruise Ship Hits Ice in Antarctic

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Byline: By Peter Woodman, Nicola Boden and Jack Doyle Western Mail

One hundred passengers were forced to take to lifeboats yesterday after their cruise liner hit ice and began taking on water in the Antarctic Ocean.

Passengers, who included 24 Britons and four people from Ireland, abandoned the 2,400-tonne Liberian-flagged M/S Explorer after a small hole was punched in the hull in the early hours of yesterday.

After enduring temperatures of -5C, the passengers and the 54-strong crew were eventually transferred uninjured to Norwegian cruise ship the NordNorge, which had gone to the rescue.

Fourteen of the Britons were clients of adventure holiday company Explore which has its headquarters at Farnborough, Hampshire.

They were taking part in Explore's Spirit of Shackleton tour of 19 nights, starting from the port of Ushuaia on the southern tip of Argentina and including the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.

Pictures of the incident showed the Explorer listing violently to one side, so the deck was almost in the water.

Passengers abandoned the vessel near a huge iceberg, in a vast expanse of freezing polar water. Passengers could be seen in red life-jackets, boarding shallow, rigid-hulled lifeboats.

They were seen making the crossing between the Explorer and the rescue vessels, which appeared many hundred metres apart.

Explore managing director Ashley Toft said, "While such incidents are very rare, they are nevertheless shocking when they occur."

Arnvid Hansen, the captain of the NordNorge, operated by Norwegian cruise company Hurtigruten, said the passengers were cold but not suffering from hypothermia. "It was no problem to get them on board," he said. "They were picked up from the lifeboats... and this operation took around one hour."

Last night the vessel was heading for King George Island where the passengers were expected to be taken off.

As the drama unfolded at a point 62 degrees south, it emerged that UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) inspectors had found five faults with the Explorer when it docked at Greenock in Scotland in May this year. …