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Russian cruise vessel breaks free of the ice and heads for Ushuaia

Wednesday, November 18th 2009 - 13:57 UTC
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M/V Kapitan Khlebnikov M/V Kapitan Khlebnikov

An expedition vessel with 184 passengers and crew onboard -- including 51 British guests and a BBC film crew-- is on the move again after being wedged in the ice of Antarctica's Weddell Sea since Friday.

The Kapitan Khlebnikov, a Russia-registered icebreaker operated by Quark Expeditions and sold in the UK by adventure tour operator Exodus, is on a special voyage to visit the emperor penguin colony near Antarctica's Snow Hill Island. The BBC is onboard filming a documentary to be called “Frozen Planet.”

The ship left Ushuaia on November 3 for the two-week expedition, which cost from £12,410 per person. It was due back in port yesterday but has only broken free of the ice today, four days behind schedule, and is now not expected to arrive until the end of this week.

Any expedition to Antarctica carries a level of risk but is it normal to get stuck like this? According to a press statement by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), “It is usual during these trips to lodge the ship in the ice near the colony. On this occasion, however, once in position, bad weather caused the sea-ice to compress around the ship making it difficult for the vessel to manoeuvre effectively.”

Although the Argentine authorities, who are responsible for search and rescue operations in this area of the continent, had been alerted to the vessel's predicament, no assistance was requested.

The passengers and film crew achieved their goal of seeing the penguin rookery, although all have missed their flights home by several days. Exodus guide Paul Goldstein, who is onboard the vessel, told the UK's Travel Weekly newspaper: “The passengers are safe, a little frustrated that ice and weather conditions have delayed their return, but philosophical about their late arrival into Ushuaia.”

In addition to the 51 Brits onboard, Kapitan Khlebnikov is carrying 58 Russians, 13 Americans and 8 Austrians, as well as passengers from France, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany and 13 other nations.

According to a statement from Quark Expeditions, the cruise line is working to arrange alternate travel plans for the passengers currently onboard. The cruise line is also in communication with guests on the upcoming cruise, and is providing them with entertainment and enrichment programming as they wait for the ship to arrive back in port.

If you're tempted by the adventure -- this penguin colony was only discovered in 2005 and, each year, only a couple of expeditions attempt to make it this deep into the ice -- Exodus lists two departures scheduled for October 2010.

by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor

Categories: Tourism, Antarctica.

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