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US joins international partners to investigate Antarctica cruise casualties

PHOTO: ANNE KALOSH CRUISE_Antarctica.jpg
The 2022/23 Antarctica season, still under way, is a busy one
US Coast Guard Activities Europe, the National Transportation Safety Board and international flag administrations are investigating marine casualties involving the death or injury of US citizens on Antarctica cruises.

These occurred on non-US-flag passenger ships in Antarctic waters between Nov. 15 and Dec. 1. Four incidents are under investigation.

Quark's Zodiac capsize

Two US citizens died when a Zodiac from the Portuguese-flagged World Explorer, on charter to Quark Expeditions, capsized with six passengers near Elephant Island, Antarctica. Portugal is the lead investigative state, and the USCG is conducting a marine casualty investigation as a substantially interested state with NTSB support.

Viking Polaris injury

A US citizen was injured when an inflatable boat from the Norwegian-flagged Viking Polaris, operated by Viking, sustained a keel-bladder failure near Damoy Point, Antarctica. Norway is the lead investigative state, and the USCG is conducting a marine casualty investigation as a substantially interested state with NTSB support.

Viking Polaris rogue wave

One US citizen died and four others were injured when Viking Polaris was struck by a large wave in the Drake Passage while transiting to Ushuaia, Argentina. Norway is the lead investigative state, and USCG is conducting a marine casualty investigation as a substantially interested state with NTSB support.

Plancius death

A US citizen aboard the Netherlands-flagged passenger vessel Plancius, operated by Oceanwide Expeditions, died from an injury sustained onboard. USCG is conducting a marine casualty investigation in coordination with officials from the Netherlands and the Falkland Islands.  

The United States will participate and assist in the World Explorer and Viking Polaris investigations as a substantially interested state in accordance with International Maritime Organization protocols and Coast Guard policy. In response to the incidents, USCG, NTSB and the lead investigative states deployed teams to Ushuaia to commence safety investigations with the goal of improving marine safety and preventing similar tragic incidents.

Safety of US passengers throughout the globe a priority

'Our deepest sympathies go out to the families of those impacted by these tragedies,' said Capt. Gretchen Bailey, Coast Guard Activities Europe commanding officer. 'The safety of US passengers aboard ships throughout the globe is a priority for the US Coast Guard. We are proud to work alongside the NTSB and our international partners to investigate these incidents and make meaningful safety improvements for worldwide passenger vessel operations, especially in unique high-risk environments like the Antarctic.'

Busy Antarctica season

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators deferred to investigative parties and had no update on the incidents when contacted earlier this week by Seatrade Cruise News.

The Antarctic season (October 2022 - April 2023) is still under way so final numbers are not available. However, it looks like a very busy period, probably a record, with new operators and ships and following a couple years of pandemic suspensions. 

Estimated 106,000 visitors

Pre-season IAATO estimated 106,000 visitors would be traveling with its member operators. Of those, approximately 36,000 were anticipated to travel on cruise-only vessels and not set foot on land.

This compares to the 73,670 visitors in the pre-pandemic 2019/20 season, including 18,506 on cruise-only vessels.

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