Friday, December 05, 2008
A cruise ship carrying 122 people ran aground on the coast of Antarctica yesterday and was to be evacuated within hours by the first of several rescue vessels heading to its aid, Argentine officials said. The 89 passengers and 33 crew on the Argentine-registered ship, Ciudad de Ushuaia, “are not in danger”, the head of the Argentine National Antarctica Directorate, Mariano Memolli, told a television station. He said the vessel had run aground in Wilhelmina Bay, part of a peninsula that reaches towards the southern tip of South America, but “there was no risk of (it) sinking”. The nationalities of the passengers and crew were not immediately known, he said. Argentina and Chile, the two closest nations, were organising a joint rescue operation. A Chilean vessel was expected to reach the cruise liner and take off the passengers as a precaution, Memolli said.A vessel belonging to the National Geographic Society was in the area and might also participate, he said. The grounded cruise ship was used for tourist trips around Antarctica. It regularly left from Ushaia, the southernmost Argentine city that is a popular destination for Argentines and foreigners. Similar accidents have happened in the past, during the southern hemisphere's Spring and Summer, when dozens of cruises are made to Antarctica, the world's only uninhabited continent. In December 2007, a Norwegian cruise liner, Fram, floated adrift for two hours before rescue in the same region with 256 passengers and 70 crew on board after its engines failed. In November 2007, a Canadian-owned ship, Explorer, sank after hitting an iceberg. Its 154 occupants abandoned ship in lifeboats and were rescued without injury, though a massive fuel slick sullied the pristine protected nature zone.