Inexperinced Captain Blamed for Antarctic Cruise Ship Sinking

Back in November of 2007 a cruise ship, called the Explorer, owned and operated by GAP Adventures, a well known and respected adventure travel operator, went down in the Southern Ocean. Fortunately, none of the 154 people on board were killed, or even injured for that matter, and rescue ships were on the scene within hours. But many were left to wonder how such an accident could happen.

Eighteen months after the incident occurred, the Liberian Maritime Bureau has released its report, citing an “inexperienced and over confident” captain as the biggest reason the ship went down. According to this story in the U.K.’s Independent, investigators feel that if it weren’t for the unusually calm weather at the time, this could have easily become the worst disaster in Antarctic history.

The report also sheds more details on the accident, saying that the captain of the ship ran his vessel into what is described as a “wall of ice”, traveling at a high rate of speed, seriously misjudging the thickness of that ice. The collision tore a ten foot long cut in the hull of the vessel, much larger than was previously reported, sending it to the bottom of the ocean.
The captain of the Explorer is a Swede by the name of Bengt Wiman. It was not Wiman’s first trip into the Antarctic waters, as he had made the journey many times before as a first mate. This was, however, his first trip in command of his own ship, and that inexperience seems to have shown through. The report also cites him for manuvering in the icefield after dark as well.

Frequent Gadling contributor Jon Bowermaster has posted his thoughts on the subject in a blog post on his site. He was aboard one of the first rescue ships that came to the aid of the Explorer. Bowermaster tells us that ship itself was also part of the problem, as the Explorer was more than 40 years old, and had reportedly failed inspections on more than one occasion in the past. There are some indications that its hull integrity was compromised due to corrosion in several areas, which may have also led to the ship’s rapid demise.

The report underscores a growing sentiment that Antarctic tourism may be a disaster waiting to happen. There have long been concerns about the impact of tourism on the fragile environment there. But the sinking of the Explorer, along with two more ships running aground this year, has many concerned.