US Coast Guard Investigates Accidents During Antarctic Cruises

The US Coast Guard is investigating multiple incidents that took place onboard expedition cruise ships in Antarctic waters.

In the first few weeks of the Antarctic cruise season, the US Coast Guard received reports of several tragic incidents that have taken place onboard expedition cruise ships operating in Antarctica. The agency announced it has begun investigating the accidents.

Three expeditions cruise ships have seen tragic incidents happen in a two-week period between November 15 and December 1, causing four fatalities. Two of the three ships are operated by companies that have many years of experience operating in the polar regions, while the other is operated by one of the biggest cruise operators in Europe.

Two Weeks, Four Accidents

It has been a challenging start to the 2022-2023 Antarctic cruise season, with several incidents resulting in the untimely end of journeys for guests onboard the World Explorer, MV Plancius, and Viking Polaris

During a concentrated two-week period, between November 15 and December 1, four individuals were involved in unfortunate accidents, either during a shore excursion on a small zodiac boat or on one of the cruise vessels.

The accidents include two U.S. citizens who died when an inflatable boat from the Portuguese-flagged passenger vessel, World Explorer, capsized near Elephant Island, Antarctica.

Quark Expeditions (Photo Credit: Ion Mes / Shutterstock)

At the time, Quark Expeditions issued a statement, saying: “A Zodiac boat carrying six passengers and two expedition staff overturned near shore, tragically resulting in two fatalities. The weather conditions were light winds and smooth sea state, and indications are the accident was caused by a breaking wave.”

“We will continue to work with and offer our assistance to those involved during this difficult time, including full cooperation with the relevant authorities.”

Another U.S. citizen was injured when an inflatable boat from the Norwegian-flagged passenger vessel, Viking Polaris, sustained a keel-bladder failure near Damoy Point on November 28. In another incident just one day later, one U.S. citizen died, and four others were injured when a large wave in the Drake Passage struck the Viking Polaris.

Additionally, a U.S. citizen aboard the Dutch-flagged passenger vessel MV Plancius died from an injury sustained on board. Oceanwide Expeditions operate this ship. 

All Casualties US-Nationals

All four individuals were US Nationals, leading the US Coast Guard to initiate a thorough investigation. The National Transportation Safety Board and international flag administrations are also collaborating with the US Coast Guard in the examination of these marine casualties and to make possible safety recommendations.

Captain Gretchen Bailey of the Coast Guard: “Our heartfelt condolences go out to the families impacted by these events. The safety of U.S. passengers aboard ships globally is a priority for the U.S. Coast Guard.”

“We are proud to work alongside the NTSB and our international partners to investigate these incidents and make meaningful safety improvements for worldwide passenger vessel operations, especially in unique high-risk environments like the Antarctic.”

Expedition Cruises (Photo Credit: Todd Sowers Photography / Shutterstock)

Teams from the US Coast Guard, NTSB, and the lead investigative states, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Norway, have deployed to Ushuaia, Argentina, to commence comprehensive safety investigations. The ultimate aim is to improve marine safety and prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

Are Antarctic Cruises Dangerous?

The recent accidents in the Antarctic waters during the 2022-2023 cruise season highlight the significant risks and dangers of embarking on an expedition in such a remote and challenging environment.

The harsh and unpredictable weather conditions, combined with the region’s remoteness and limited or no access to medical facilities, make these types of cruises challenging and hazardous. The fact that four US nationals lost their lives during a seemingly routine excursion or onboard one of the vessels is a stark reminder of the dangers.

Expedition cruise operators such as Quark Expeditions and Oceanwide Expeditions work with and are known for their incredibly high standard of safety onboard and ashore. 

However, the fact that it is these two companies, as well as a big cruise operator such as Viking, where these accidents happened shows that an Antarctic cruise remains a cruise to a dangerous and inhospitable part of our planet. 

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