sexta-feira, 23 de novembro de 2007

Antarctic Cruise Ship Hits Ice, Passengers Evacuated

Antarctic Cruise Ship Hits Ice, Passengers Evacuated

By Brian Lysaght and Camilla Hall

Nov. 23 (Bloomberg) -- The cruise ship ``M/S Explorer'' evacuated 154 passengers and crew after hitting an iceberg off the coast of Antarctica. The vessel is listing and may sink.

The ship's owner, Toronto-based tour operator G.A.P. Adventures, said below-surface ice cut a hole in the hull. The crew and passengers -- including 24 Britons, 17 Dutch and 14 Americans -- were rescued by a Norwegian cruise ship, G.A.P. said in an e-mailed statement.

Antarctica received a record number of tourists last year, attracted by rugged terrain and scenes from films such as the Oscar-winning ``March of the Penguins.'' The Explorer, which was on a 19-day summer tour, made 12 voyages in the region last year, according to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators.

``We're seeing more vessels and bigger vessels,'' said John Shears, a director of the British Antarctic Survey, a government funded research center in Cambridge, England. ``It's not a risk- averse holiday.''

There were 37,552 visitors to Antarctica last year, an increase of 29 percent from a year earlier, the tour association said on its Web site.

The Liberian-registered Explorer hit the ice in the Bransfield Strait off King George Island, 96 kilometers (60 miles) from the Antarctic Peninsula, authorities in Argentina and the U.K. said.

Fourteen lifeboats transferred the passengers and crew to the NordNorge, a Norwegian liner, said the Argentine Coast Guard, which coordinated the rescue, in an e-mailed statement.

Passengers in Good Condition

Arnvid Hansen, the captain of the NordNorge, told Sky News in a telephone interview that ``everyone is in good condition.''

The Explorer, which was built in 1969, is at risk of sinking, said Dan Brown, a London-based spokesman for G.A.P. in a telephone interview. The ship, which has a reinforced hull to protect against ice, has been sailing in Antarctica since 1970 and is one of the best-known and most capable tour ships in the region, said Shears.

``They were lucky the sea was calm and the temperatures about freezing,'' Shears said. The British Antarctic Survey is lobbying international maritime officials for more regulation of cruise ships in the region, including ships sailing in pairs to reduce risks.

The Explorer's captain is Swedish and most of the crew from the Philippines, the company said.

Falkland Islands

The G.A.P. trip set off from Nov. 11 from Ushuaia, Argentina, visited the Falkland Islands and was to wind through the Drake Passage and the Danco Coast of Antarctica.

``Experience a voyage of a lifetime to a land where penguins rub shoulders with seals and orcas and whales are often seen plying the icy waters,'' G.A.P. says on its Web site.

The company describes itself as Canada's largest adventure travel company and a specialist in ``small group adventures, safaris and expeditions.''

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