Eleven Australians who were among 120 people on board a cruise ship damaged when it hit rock in Antarctica have been safely evacuated to Argentina.
Still stuck on the rock, tilted to one side, taking in water and leaking fuel, the MV Ushuaia is expected to be freed on the next high tide, a spokesman for Antarctic tour operators said today.
“The main issue now that the passengers are safe, is will there be any environmental problems, but right now it doesn’t seem to be a serious problem,” Steve Wellmeier, executive director of the US-based International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, said.
Mr Wellmeier said a Chilean naval vessel took on board passengers and crew from the stricken vessel on Friday, and took them to King George Island, at the northern end of the Antarctic peninsula.
He said about 120 people, including five staff, were flown by Argentinian aircraft last night to the town of Ushuaia – the main embarkation point for trips to the Antarctic.
“From there they will go wherever their homebound plans take them,” Mr Wellmeier said.
It is believed the ship’s crew and two Antarpply Expeditions staff members remain onboard the grounded vessel.
This is the third cruise ship mishap in Antarctica in two seasons. In the most alarming incident, a Canadian ship with 154 passengers hit an iceberg and sank, forcing occupants into lifeboats and causing a massive fuel slick.
Due to depart for Antarctica on Wednesday, Garry Matthews from Adelaide said the incident would not deter him from continuing with “the journey of a lifetime”.
Having spent eight months planning a tour of the Antarctic and Argentina, the 30-year-old post-graduate medical student said people travelling to the Antarctic were fully advised of the inherent dangers before making a booking.
“Everything is planned, everything organised, the people I’m going with have done it dozens of times before, they have contingency and emergency plans,” he said.
“Yes it’s remote, and hence you can’t sort of click your fingers and say `I need a helicopter to help this person’, but that’s no different to where I worked in Indonesia for three years.”
While booked with a tour operator other than Antarpply Expeditions, Mr Matthews said all tourists were prohibited from boarding any of the Antarctic tours without comprehensive travel insurance.
Mr Wellmeier said while he was unaware as to whether or not Antarpply Expeditions would reimburse customers who were onboard the stricken cruise, changes to travel arrangements were common place when touring the Antarctic.
“If you’re locked out by the weather for two days … no you don’t get a refund, this is kind of part and parcel of expeditions,” he said.
“Itineraries are subject to change due to weather, ice and it’s very difficult to predict what you can do, what you can’t do, when you go to a place like Antarctica.”