Tourists rescued from liner begin journey home

The tourists rescued from a stricken Antarctic cruise liner were beginning their long journey home today.

The tourists rescued from a stricken Antarctic cruise liner were beginning their long journey home today.

Passengers from the M/S Explorer spent the night at military air bases on a desolate island on the edge of the icy continent after their dramatic rescue yesterday.

As they slept last night the ship, which was punctured when it hit an iceberg yesterday, disappeared below the water line and sank in to the icy depths.

Today, the 150 passengers and crew will fly from King George Island where they stayed in hastily-arranged quarters last night.

Two Chilean Hercules C130 cargo planes will fly them from Presidente Eduardo Frei air base to Punta Arenas, on the southern tip of South America.

There they will be met by the Foreign Office and representatives of G.A.P Adventures, the ship’s Toronto-based owner, and Foreign Office officials.

Passenger John Cartwright told the BBC: “We were in a lifeboat in fairly rough seas, strong winds.

“We all got a little nervous when the ship began to list sharply and the lifeboats still hadn’t been lowered.

“We feel very relieved now. We’re all sort of unwinding and happy to be up here warm and dry.”

Chilean Navy patrol vessels lost sight of the ship and it was believed to have sunk, some 75 miles north of the Antarctic Peninsula.

A spokesman said: “Our units in the area aren’t seeing anything. The explorer is not visible any longer.”

The passengers endured further delay last night when high winds meant it was too dangerous to move them from the NordNorge, the liner which came to their rescue.

But the delay, and the far from luxurious conditions on the island, which is also home to global warming scientists, were happy relief from the freezing conditions they endured in their escape to safety.

The drama began at 1am local time yesterday when passengers felt a slight bump as the 2,400-tonne vessel, nicknamed “The Little Red Ship” hit an iceberg.

It seemed to emerge intact but after a second, larger collision it began taking on water on the port side.

After desperate efforts to pump the water out, the ship began to list violently.

Passengers abandoned their luggage and donned life-jackets before getting on board old-fashioned open topped life boats.

They were then lowered in to the vast ocean in temperatures of -5C.

The NordNorge, responding to an emergency signal, arrived hours later and 154 passengers and crew were transported across the large, choppy gulf between the ships to safety.

On the NordNorge, they were given hot food and space to dry their clothes.

The passengers were 11 days into a 19-day trip costing around £4,000 (€5,545) that took them into one of the most hostile environments on Earth.

Fourteen of the Britons were part of a tour run by Hampshire based adventure holiday company Explore named “Spirit of Shakleton” after the polar explorer.

G.A.P. would not comment on whether passengers would receive compensation, saying it was concentrating on their immediate needs.

It emerged yesterday that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency inspectors found five faults with the Explorer when it docked at Greenock in Scotland in May.

These included missing search and rescue plans and lifeboat maintenance problems.

Watertight doors were described as “not as required” and the fire safety measures also attracted criticism.

A spokesman for the agency said the problems were fixed before the vessel was allowed to sail.

Chilean port state control inspectors found six deficiencies during an inspection in March. Two related to navigation safety.

The passengers on board came from more than a dozen nations, including Holland, the US, Canada and Australia.

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