Explorer, the 2,400 gross tonnes cruiseship which sank in the Bransfield Strait, South Shetlands, on 27 November 2007 with 154 passengers and crew aboard was travelling too fast in ice that was harder than the master expected, says the official report from the Liberian report on the incident. The master and crew were ‘recognised’ for their actions in the evacuation of the vessel.
According to the report the master, who had only taken command that day having previously been chief officer, was very experienced in Baltic waters but was not familiar with the type of ice found in the Antarctic. Based on a viewing of passenger videos by an ice pilot, the report says that the master should have headed for open water rather than enter the icefield in darkness and, having done so, seems not to have reduced speed.
Explorer hit a ridge or ‘wall’ of hard ice which brought her to a stop and her hull sustained damage that led to flooding and ultimately sinking.
The master ordered evacuation as a precaution. Had he delayed it is most likely that lifeboat launching would still have been underway when Explorer sank and lives lost.
The chief engineer and engine room crew are cited for their ingenuity and bravery as they found ways to maintain power despite the flooding, which enabled the master to manoeuvre the vessel and launch lifeboats.
On the downside a number lifeboat engines did not work and had to be towed by Zodiac inflatables, many passengers did not know which lifeboat they were assigned to, deck crew did not know how to start the lifeboat engines, the lifeboats were open and their canopies were not used, passengers were not told for a hour about the availability of thermal blankets and sea sickness tablets and crew were not aware of supplies on the lifeboats, key personnel did not don survival suits, passenger movement was not adequately controlled.
Only one minor injury occurred but under any circumstances other than the prevailing fair weather there may well have been serious losses.