- The Coast Guard is assisting with probes into four deaths on Antarctic cruise ships last year.
- Three US citizens died in wave-related encounters while in Antarctic waters in November.
- “This is a destination where there are increased risks when traveling,” a cruise expert told Insider.
The US Coast Guard is investigating a series of deaths and injuries among American citizens onboard Antarctic cruises over a two-week period last year, the agency announced earlier this month.
Four people died and several more were injured in four separate Antarctic incidents between November 15, 2022 and December 1, 2022. The remote destination is rising in popularity and access, but recent tragedies highlight the inherent dangers of the glacial wilderness.
“We’re dealing with a treacherous part of the world,” Stewart Chiron, a cruise industry expert known as The Cruise Guy told Insider. “We’re not talking about the sunny, calm Caribbean seas with light trade winds.”
The season for cruise travel to Antarctica, a relatively recent destination for large passenger ships, typically runs from November through March, according to Chiron.
The US Coast Guard Activities Europe, which is tasked with marine casualty investigations, is working with the National Transportation Safety Board and the countries whose ships were involved, as those nations lead investigations into the deaths and injuries, all of which occurred in Antarctic waters on foreign-flagged vessels, according to a news release.
On Nov. 15, two US citizens died while in an inflatable zodiac during an excursion off the Portuguese-flagged World Explorer. The small boat capsized with six passengers onboard near Elephant Island in Antarctica, the Coast Guard said. The incident appeared to be caused by a breaking wave, according to The Washington Post.
Portugal is leading the investigation while the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board conduct a marine casualty probe into the deaths.
Another American was injured in an inflatable boat while traveling with Norway’s Viking Polaris near Damoy Point, Antarctica, according to the Coast Guard, which said the boat suffered a keel-bladder failure.
On Nov. 29, in a freak encounter that made headlines, a US citizen died and four others were injured while aboard the Viking Polaris when a rogue wave hit the ship and shattered several windows. Rogue waves are rare but dangerous, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which describes the phenomenon as “freak waves” or “killer waves” that can appear as “walls of water” and are highly unpredictable.
“This is a destination where there are increased risks when traveling there,” Chiron said of Antarctica. “The seas can be quite rough.”
Norway is heading both investigations stemming from the Viking Polaris, the Coast Guard said.
In a non-wave-related incident, a US citizen aboard the Netherlands-flagged Plancius died from an injury sustained while on board, the Coast Guard said. Dutch officials are leading the probe.
A representative with Oceanwide Expeditions, which operates the Plancius, told The Post that the individual died after an “accidental fall” on the ship.
As more cruise ships become equipped to handle the inherent risks of Antarctic travel and more people take Antarctic cruises as a result, there is inevitably a possibility of more danger
Despite the recent cluster of deaths and injuries, cruise travel remains a relatively safe endeavor, Chiron said, even in the dangerous waters of Antarctica.
“These incidents can happen anywhere at any time,” he said. “Even when you take extreme care, these are accidents; they’re not on purpose.”
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