/ 5 December 2008

Passengers rescued from Antarctic cruise liner

More than 80 passengers and some crew members were evacuated on Friday from a luxury Antarctic cruise ship that ran aground the previous day during a trip to observe seals, penguins and whales in the area.

They boarded a Chilean navy ship that was to take them to Chile’s Frei Base in Antarctica, which has an airstrip from which they can be flown out of the area, the Chilean navy said.

The tourists on the Ushuaia cruise ship included 14 Danes, 12 Americans, 11 Australians and six Chinese, among others from around the world, the navy said.

Chile said 82 passengers and five crew were evacuated, but that most of the crew stayed on board to try to free the ship. Argentine officials said all the passengers were taken off the ship.

No one was injured when the ship hit a rock and became stuck some 300km south-west of Argentina’s Marambio military base on the Antarctic Peninsula, the captain of the ship and the Argentine navy said.

The captain said the crew had taken measures to contain leaking fuel, but on Friday the Chilean navy reported that a fuel spill extended 1km around the Ushuaia.

Tourism to the Antarctic region has increased five-fold since the early 1990s, as tens of thousands of people cruise during the southern hemisphere’s summer to see towering icebergs and wildlife.

A year ago, more than 150 crew and passengers, many of them elderly, escaped unhurt in a dramatic rescue after their cruise ship hit ice off Antarctica and sank.

In that incident, those evacuated sat in open lifeboats for several hours in freezing temperatures before they were picked up. — Reuters