6 Dec 2008

Antarctic cruise passengers saved

4:08 pm on 6 December 2008

The Chilean navy has rescued all 89 passengers from an Argentine cruise ship which ran aground off the Antarctic coast.

Passengers from the Panama-registered ship, the Ciudad de Ushuaia, are being taken to a Chilean military base in Antarctica.

The cruise ship became stuck on Thursday in Wilhelmina Bay, a peninsula that reaches towards the southern tip of South America.

It was reported to be leaking fuel, but was not in danger of sinking.

No passengers were hurt in the incident. They included 11 Australians and one New Zealander.

The commander in charge of the operation, Alan Nettle, told Chilean radio that the 33 crew members remained on board the vessel "to carry out salvage actions the owner will have to follow".

The BBC reports tourist travel to the Antarctic region is believed to have increased five-fold in the last 15 years.

During 2006-7, more than 37,000 visited the region, according to figures from the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). Most of those visitors arrived by sea.

The organisation has expressed concern that some vessels are not adequately strengthened for icy seas.

Previous sinking

A year ago, 150 people had to be evacuated to lifeboats when their ship hit an iceberg close to the South Shetland Islands in the Antarctic Ocean.

The 2,400-tonne M/S Explorer ]sustained a hole in its hull and eventually sank. All those on board were picked up by a nearby ship.

Antarctica New Zealand says most countries with an interest in Antarctica to recently signed a resolution to begin charting the coastline of the continent and the grounding is likely to hasten that work.