Remember the MS Explorer? That was the Antarctic cruise ship that rapidly sunk off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula back in November of 2007. An investigation into the cause of the accident has just been completed, and according to the study, the fault lies with an “inexperienced and overconfident” captain.
Jon Bowermaster has posted a story on his blog with all the information. You might recall that Jon was aboard the National Geographic ship Endeavour, which was the first boat on the scene to help pull passengers and crew from the icy waters of the Southern Ocean when the Explorer went down. According to his post, the investigation was conducted by the Liberian Maritime Bureau, the country that holds jurisdiction over the ship, who released a 91-page document detailing the events that led to the accident, and near disaster.
Swedish Captain Bengt Wiman was in command of the Explorer on that fateful cruise, and while he had been in Antarctic waters many times in the past, it had always been as the first mate. This was Wiman’s first time in the big chair, and the blame is placed squarely on his shoulders for misreading the ice. Jon notes that the captain felt that it was newer, more fragile ice, but it was in fact older, and much harder than he suspected.
As a result, the Explorer rammed into that ice at too high of a speed, ripping a ten foot long gash in its hull, which explains why the ship sunk so quickly. Early reports were that the hull had a fist-sized puncture. Wiman was all criticized for entering the ice field in darkness, which combined with the speed of the vessel, was a potent combination.
Jon is quick to point out that the age of the ship didn’t help matters. The Explorer was more than 40 years old, and was suffering with that age. The hull was reportedly corroding in spots, and had already been patched a number of times, and there were a few failed inspections on its record as well. So while the inexperience of the captain has a role to play, the health of the boat didn’t help matters at all, and probably played a major role in its sinking.
There has been some concern for some time now regarding the experience level of crews being sent into the Antarctic waters. More and more people are venturing to the region, and as a result, more ships are needed to keep up with demand. Those ships require a captain and a crew, and there are only so many good, experienced, crews to go around. Navigating the Southern Ocean is not like the Caribbean, and so far we’ve been fortunate that there hasn’t been a serious loss of life, especially when you consider there were two more ships that ran aground this year.
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