Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Passenger Account of the MS Explorer Sinking

The following is an account by Peter D'Angelo, one of the passengers on the MS Explorer ship that recently sank in the Antarctic. Following the account are a large number of questions that I asked my friend Pete in order to find out more about what happened. His responses to these questions are in bold type.

----- Original Message -----
From: Peter D'Angelo
Sent: Wednesday, November 28, 2007 3:47 PM
Subject: We're Home
"Dear Family and Friends,

Yesterday (Tuesday) when we went through immigration in San Francisco, the immigration agent asked us the usual question: occupation, what did you like best/least about your trip? To the former we replied retired/dietitian. To the latter we replied: the ship sank/we’re alive. Suddenly this lethargic civil servant woke up. He wanted to hear all about what happened.

Before I go on, you must understand one thing. While we went through the same experience, shoulder to shoulder and often hand in hand, we have different feelings about it. Indeed, everyone who went through it with us has their own unique and personal feelings. While I was cold, wet, shivering, and throwing up, it never occurred to me that I could die. Lynne however was thinking about: what if the weather suddenly changed, if we hit ice or took a big wave and were swamped, if we would capsize. Therefore, in writing this I can only write for myself. Whatever I write is filtered through my perceptions which could be quite different for Lynne.

Thursday night we were tired. Instead of watching the 9:15 movie we showered and were in bed by 10:00. I fitfully tried to go to sleep. We were going through brash ice – little pieces of ice. Since we were on the third deck, as low as you could go, half our cabin was below the waterline. I could hear the pieces of brash ice scraping against the hull, which was only a single hull. Once and a while a more sold piece would strike. I finally fell asleep.

About 12:30 I was roused by what sounded like the gang plank slapping against the hull. Then I heard what sounded like water pouring down a drain. In my sleep I was thinking to wake Lynne and ask her about the sound. I didn’t remember hearing it before. I touched the bulkhead. It was dry. I put my hand on the floor.

From half asleep I went to full awake. I bolted up and pushed the emergency button and woke Lynne. I threw on some clothes. We pulled the suitcases out from under the bed; I took my laptop out from the low drawer it was in. The water continued coming in. I decided I should move things up to the second deck. I started with my laptop.

The people in the next cabin had also notified the ship. By the time I stuck my head out of the cabin a crew man was coming down. A few minutes later he was followed by the captain. The captain was a solidly built, forty-ish Swede. When he came down the stairs his comment (in English) was: “My god; We’re sinking.” The alarm sounded.

When I returned to the cabin I quickly opened up the drawers of the nightstand between our two beds. I scooped out my wallet, the recently filled 2 gigabyte memory from my camera, the backup flash drive with my journal on it and Lynne’s hand cream. I tossed clothes and camera into the suitcase and took them up to the second deck.

By the time I returned to the cabin, the boat was listing and the water was ankle deep in one end of the cabin. I picked up one of my tennis shoes and put it on a stool. I watched the other float under the bed. It floated back out and I grabbed it. The word came down: “get warm clothes.” I grabbed some of our clothes that were on the bed. Lynne had gone up to our muster station in her night gown carrying our Wellington’s (high rubber boots) and some clothes. I also grabbed our Gore-Tex jackets and fleece liners and made my way to our muster station in the lecture hall.

When everyone was assembled in the lecture hall they took roll. Periodically the captain would come on the intercom and tell us what was happening. We knew that a mayday had been sent, and that there were two ship coming but they were 10 and 6 hours away. At first there was hope the leak could be fixed. Then the mood in the lecture hall became somber and quiet. At the end of hour one the captain lowered the lifeboats into position. At the end of hour two the captain said that we were coming into ice. The lifeboats could not be lowered in the ice. Therefore, he decided to abandon ship. Then we heard those words that no one on a ship ever wants to hear the captain utter: “abandon ship; abandon ship; abandon ship.”

At 2:30 in the morning we quietly filed out of the lecture hall. There was no crying; there was no pushing; there was no panic. One of the staff members directed us to the port (left) or starboard (right) side to go the life boats. Initially we went to the port side. When the word went out that they needed 8 people on the starboard side we went there. I didn’t appreciate how much the ship was listing, perhaps 30 degrees, until I had to walk down across the fantail.

I was the last one into number one life boat. It was at this point that I was most anxious. I felt that once I was in the lifeboat I would be safe. However, there was only enough room for my feet! I stepped in, sat on the gunwale for a moment, and then wiggled my bottom onto the seat, my back against the hull. There was a problem with the engine, but it got started.

They lowered us away. Once in the water we pushed away from the ship. Our boat was overloaded! Fortunately the seas were relatively calm and there was no wind. We were very far south where it gets dark very late and light very early. It was not dark out, but twilight. Fortunately we had zodiacs – rubber boats with outboard motors. While the electric generators had stopped working we had emergency power so they were able to use it to run the winches to lower the zodiacs. After a while they off loaded people from our lifeboat to a zodiac

Once in the lifeboat Lynne and I sat huddled together. While the Gore-Tex jackets kept our topsides dry, our bottoms were wet and there was water in our Wellingtons. There was little talking in the boat. People were somber and cold. The only sound was from the two cylinder engine and an occasional order from the first mate, who was in charge of our boat.

At 3:41 I watched the sun rise. It was a small, round, golden orb that came out of a gray sea and disappeared into a gray sky.

Several times I threw up as the result of the fumes from the engine that I was sitting next to and the motion of the lifeboat. At times I started to shiver, sometimes violently. The though of hyperthermia crossed my mind, but I knew from my Boy Scout training that as long as my upper body was dry and warm I was okay. Through out this my mind was a blank, thinking on the cold, listening to the engine, always concerned that it would stall.

After about two hours in the boat the first mate told us that the rescue ship was about 2 hours away. (The first mate had a radio.) About an hour after that a helicopter flew over head and circled us. Even thought we knew that people around the world knew exactly where we were, our spirits were greatly lifted. Somewhere between hour four and five someone spotted a glint of light in the distance. Soon after that we could see it was a ship bearing down on us.

We got not one, but two rescue ships: the National Geographic’s Endeavor, and the Nordnorge. The former ship was small, the size of the Explorer; the latter ship could hold 600 passengers though there were only 229 on board.

What a wonderful sight it was when the Nordnorge removed the covers from its gigantic lifeboat and lowered their lifeboat down to us. After four or five hours we were stiff. Hands reached out to us and help us into Nordnorge lifeboat. When everyone was transferred we were raised up to the forth deck. When we went into the ship we were greeted by a crew member giving each of us a blanket. We were sent up to the seventh deck were we were given a hot drink and then pointed in the direction of the lounges. The call went out over the ship’s intercom for clothes. Soon the couches and chairs in the lounge were covered with wet clothes that we exchanged for dry ones donated to us. Both the ship and the passengers of the Nordnorge were unbelievably generous. From large deck to ceiling windows of the seventh deck lounge we could watch our ship as it listed. (Unlike the pictures you have probably seen, there was no ice surrounding the ship – that happened later.)

We were served breakfast and lunch on the Nordnorge. The Nordnorge tried to offload us at the Chilean Frei Base. Due to the weather, blowing snow and high seas, it couldn’t. We had to wait offshore several hours before we could finally be landed.

Why did the boat sink? While it is true that there was a hole in the hull, the water tight doors were shut. The compartment where our cabin was should have filled up with water, but the boat should have continued to float. My understanding was that the problem was with the toilets. The water went into the toilets and then into the holding tank. When the holding tank filled up the water backed up into the other cabins thus bypassing the watertight doors.

Why was this not another Titanic? Relatively speaking we had good weather and a calm sea. The captain launched the lifeboats at the right time. We had the zodiacs. We were all fit people: there were no children or infirmed. We were used to being out on the sea in the cold. We had good leadership. We were dressed for the cold. And, above all, we were lucky.

This had been a truly amazing week. I could go on and on. How wonderful the Chilean government was. What it was like flying in a C130 (a military cargo plane) where our knees were intertwined with the knees of the person opposite us. How helpful Debbie, the US Consul from Santiago was. How well we were treated by GAP, the company that ran the tour. What it was like to give interviews to the world press. How basically everything we brought with us is now 1500 meters under the sea. Above all we are thankful to have the most important thing of all, our lives. We appreciate all the e-mails you have sent as they have brought us comfort and support.

Your friend

PS. If you have any newspapers or magazine articles about this incident, we would appreciate if you could save them for us."

Dear Pete,

Here is another news video link that I think is better than most:

And A KGO TV Channel 7 interview of Pete & Lynne (includes a startup commercial):

Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2007 09:51:11 -0800

What was the size of your cabin (LxWxH) and bathroom if it was a separate room?

The room was approximate 6 feet wide 12 feet long and 7 feet tall. The bathroom was a separate room that occupied one corner of the bedroom. It was 4 feet long 3 feet wide.

You said that half of your cabin was below the waterline and that your deck was the lowest YOU could go. Does this mean that the engine room was on the same deck, or was it further below?

When we toured the engine room we had to enter from a door on the second deck. Then we walked down stairs. The engines either were at our level or just slightly below. I believe that the Explorer was a shallow draft boat so that it could work in rivers and shallow bays.

How far below the water level was the hull puncture?

I believe that three feet of my cabin was out of the water which means about four feet was below the water line. I heard water gurgling in above my head. My head was one foot off the deck. So the puncture was somewhere between zero and two feet below the water line.

How far back from the bow of the ship was the hull puncture?

We were about in the middle.

Was any part of the hole in your cabin?

I can't say for sure. There was a wall between me and the hull. However since I heard water gurgling I can only assume that it was coming in behind me. (Of course it could have traveled over from the other cabin.)

How long after you heard the crash until you felt water on the floor?

Just a minute or two.

Could you visually tell where the water on your floor was coming from, i.e. from a part of a hole in your cabin, or up through the floor, or through the wall from the next cabin forward?

All I knew was that the floor was wet, like someone had dumped a pail of water on it and saturated it.

How did you find out about the size of the hole? Did you see it?

The captain said it was fist size. I couldn't see it because of the wall between me and the hull. However a fist size hole could have been handled by pumps.

You've mentioned that the ship was single hulled and yet I've heard (or read) that it was double hulled and somewhat hardened for running through ice. What is the truth about this?

My understanding was that the bottom was double hulled and the ship was ice hardened. If it had a double hull on the side the captain would not have announce that they couldn't determine the size of the leak until they strip away the wall.

Was the Captain on the bridge when it happened?

Don't know. The captain's room is behind the bridge. He was down within five minutes of the alarm being sounded.

You mentioned pushing an emergency button. Did all cabins have such an alarm button? And what instructions were you given about when to use it?

I believe that each cabin had an emergency button. We were told not to push it (except in emergency) because it was wired to the bridge and someone would come down to investigate.

I have the impression that the hull was punctured in the next cabin forward of yours. What did the people in that cabin have to say about what happened?

It was the cabin aft of us. I never really discussed it with them.

My sister said that on TV was a film by one of the passengers about the whole thing. If you find out how to get a copy I would be interested in seeing it. Did you see any of the passengers or crew take pictures of either the damage or the evacuation?

Yes I saw someone taking pictures with their camera. I doubt that you can get a copy.

[ subsequent info: See link to a Today Show interview with another passenger that took video during the sinking (includes a startup commercial): ]

Was the ship brought to an immediate halt by the impact?

The ship was still running. In fact it was running when it was abandoned. However it was running in reverse. We had two motors (both I think constant speed) connected through a transmission to one propeller. The speed and direction of the boat were determined by adjusting the propeller's pitch, just like in an airplane. The pitch was adjusted by compressed air. Eventually when we lost the compressor the ship's propeller ended up being in reverse.

How soon was the ship propulsion stopped after the impact?

see above

Did you or anyone else ever see the object that was hit?

I didn't. Most people were in bed.

From your description it sounds like it was only about 10 minutes before you noticed that the ship was starting to list. Is that a fair estimate?

Its a fair guess. But when you're in a situation like that you loose track of time.

How soon after impact did the ship loose main electricity?

An hour to an hour and a half.

What damage repair (hole plugging or patching) or damage control (pumping) did you see or were told about being attempted?

The captain told us that they were pumping water. I was also told that they tried to stuff pillows into the hole.

How long after the crash until you began to think that everyone would have to abandon ship? And what caused you to think this?

We were primed for it an hour after the crash when the captain lowered the lifeboats into position. It didn't occurred to me that we would actually have to abandon the ship until the captain told us.

And how long after the crash did you realize that all of your belongings would be going down with the ship?

The next day when we were told that the ship had sunk. Up to that point we had hoped that the ship could be salvaged.

When were you issued life vests, assuming you were?

In the top shelf of our closet were two life jackets. During our lifeboat drill we tried them on. However when I finally dashed up stairs with the coats, fleece liners, some clothes and my tennis shoes in my hands I think I left mine behind. At least I couldn't find it. Fortunately there are extra life preservers (not as nice) in boxes on the deck. Actually a life preserver wouldn't have saved you. The water temperature was -2 deg C (or about -28 deg F) If you fell in you're dead.

Was your lifeboat the only one that was overloaded?

I don't know. However we had four lifeboats for 154 people. I can only assume that they were.

Would your lifeboat have remained afloat even if swamped, i.e. did it and the others have sealed floatation bladders?

There were a number of compartments for food (7 day supply), water, survival suits, medicine, etc, I believe that the boat would have floated if it were filled with water. However, we'd be in -2 deg of water and would quickly die of hyperthermia.

Photos seem to indicate that there may have been only one covered lifeboat, is that true?

All the life boats were open as were the zodiacs. However we did have canisters that would pop open and deploy a life raft. I don't believe that any of these were deployed, but they would have had a cover.

What were the total number of lifeboats launched?

There were four life boats and all were launched. There were at least four possibly more zodiacs launched.

What do you think would have happened if any of the lifeboat engines had failed?

Two perhaps three of the lifeboat engines failed. Without an engine the lifeboats could not have been steered into the waves and therefore could have capsized.

Did any of the other passengers (or crew) have full survival suits? And if so, were they supplied during the incident or personally acquired ahead of time?

There were survival suits in one compartment of the lifeboat. They were big space blanket like mummy bags. They were passed out half way through.

You told me that the ship had all of the passports. Were they subsequently distributed to you or did they go down with the ship?

They were given back to us when we were about to leave the Chilean base.

If you knew beforehand more of what you know now, what would you have done different before, at the time of the crash, and during the evacuation?

I would have grabbed my money belt (with $500 in it), my camera, our rain pants, my sweater, Lynne's cloth bag with her hat in it.

Will you be reimbursed for any or all of your losses? And if so, by who?

GAP, the tour operator, gave us each $100. (some people had no money.)
We were sent on a shopping spree with a $200 limit each. We bought a day pack, Lynne bought some shoes (she only had her Wellingtons while I had a donated pair of shoes), I bought a couple of shirts (I didn't know what else to buy) and we spent about $200 on a Canon camera and a 2 gigabyte memory card.
We had evacuation insurance that will pay $500 (less $50 deductible) each for lost luggage.
My credit card will pay for my "damaged" laptop. Unfortunately the coverage was for 90 days and I lost it at 92 days. I will file a claim but am not hopeful.
Since we did not buy travel insurance, it would have cost somewhere around $800 we can use what we didn't spend to offset our loss.
The $500 in my money belt was to tip the crew. I would have given it away anyway.

Do you plan to transcribe to print the tape I made of your KGO interview?

I don't plan on transcribing it. I have a very detailed write up in my journal.

Do you care if I distribute to others what you sent me, and may send me, about this i.e., should I treat your writing as formally copyrighted?

Please distributed it. The sincerest form of flattery is to send it to someone else.

Have you considered putting your account of this out on the WEB?

I hadn't. I don't know how to do it. However, it has been so widely distributed I won't be surprised if it makes it.
Date: Sat, 1 Dec 2007 07:06:29 -0800

From the pictures of the ship listing I assume that your cabin was on the starboard side, true?

Our cabin was on the starboard side.

What was the diameter of the toilet drains (3" or 4")?

I can't say. I couldn't see the pipe.

Did they have the capability to seal the fuel tank(s) before abandoning ship and did they do so?

I don't know if they could seal the fuel tanks. However, at 1500 meters I would imagine that the fuel tanks would be crushed by the water pressure.

It was mentioned numerous times by you and the news that the Captain decided to put everyone into lifeboats because the ship was drifting into ice. However, pictures indicate to me that the ice was not nearby until much later. Do you think that probably the real reason for proceeding when they did was that 1) he know that the ship would have to be abandoned sooner or later anyway, 2) if the ship had listed any further it would have seriously interfered with lowering the boats and/or 3) the engines were going to flood out and therefore prevent the use of the lowering hoists (or were they ALL on separate emergency power)?

I think one and two are correct. By the time we abandon ship we had lost the main ship electrical power and were running on an emergency generator.

Why did you believe that the ship was only a single hull vessel?

The captain said that were going to have to tear away the bulkhead to get to the hull to patch the leak. If we had been doubled hulled this would not have been possible.

My understanding is that the bottom is double hulled while the sides were single hulled with extra reinforcement.

I would expect that there will be some sort of inquiry into this happening. Therefore the authorities (if they do a thorough job) should include interviews or testimony from passengers. And therefore your accurate and timely writing down of your observations about what happened (especially with having had engineering training) may be very important.

It will be very interesting to see who does the inquiry. At the time we were in international waters. The ship was of Liberian registry, owned by a Canadian Company, Crewed by a Swedish Company.

From: Dennis Barkley Sent: Monday, December 03, 2007 11:47 AM

Your reports had left me uncomfortable about what had really happened -- especially since by your comments it appeared that the hull breach had occurred amidships instead of in the front. So I decided to look further on the internet and found the following interesting article:

From: Peter D'Angelo
Wednesday, December 05, 2007 1:57 PM

I think that you will find this interesting. Eli was in the cabin next to ours.

> >--------------------
> > An icy lesson in being grateful
> > --------------------
> >> > Traveler who survived sinking of Antarctic cruise ship says the chilling ordeal taught him what's important in life.
> >> > By David Haldane
> > Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
> >> > December 5 2007
> >> > It was just after midnight on the 12th day of a cruise to Antarctica when Eli Charne felt a giant lurch followed by a bang and the sound of gurgling.
> >> > The complete article can be viewed at:,0,7698806.story?coll=la-home-center

Thursday, December 06, 2007 3:52 PM

Do you know the names of the other two people that were in the cabin next to you? And do you have any of their email addresses?


Did you ever receive a list of all of the passengers names and email addresses?


You mentioned being interviewed afterwards by various news people but were you, or any others, ever interviewed about what happened either by insurance and/or maritime investigators? And if so, when, where and by whom?

We were individually debriefed by a GAP employee (or at least a person employed by GAP) in Punta Arenas

What were the walls of your cabin (especially the wall towards the hull) made of? Sheetrock over wood or metal studding, or steel plate? And if steel, were the pieces spot or continuous welded, or bolted, to supporting and/or adjacent material?

The walls were covered with wallpaper so I have no idea of what they were made of.

What was your cabin door made of, and did it swing outward or inward from inside your cabin? And was this door watertight and have a sealing lip at the bottom?

The cabin door swung inward. This was not a water tight door; there was no lip at the bottom.

Were there any drains in your cabin floor or drains or open gratings in the hallway floor?

Other than in the bathroom there were no drains in the floors or hallways.

Was the cabin next to you and aft the same size as yours and made of the same material and in the same way (including the door)?

As far as I know yes.

How soon after the crash did you become aware that the people in the cabin next to you were awake and responding to the problem?

When I started to move things upstairs. A few minutes after the crash.

How soon after the crash that you first entered or looked into the hallway, and was it dark like it was reported by your neighbor?

Probably three to five minutes; the light was always on in the hall.

Did you see water rushing out of their cabin door at any time?

No, nor do I remember water being in the hall.

After reaching the muster station could you (If you had wanted to) have gone back down again to your cabin?


During the whole time of the incident how would you characterize the way the Captain, and each crew member, treated you with respect to you (or anyone else) trying to find out what happened and what they were doing to try and fix it?

The captain kept us updated on a fairly regular basis through the intercom while we were in the Lecture Hall.

While in your cabin could you tell when the ship was doing a hard turn (by feeling it and/or by different sounds)? If so, did you have any sense that the ship was in a hard turn when (or just after) the crash happened?

You couldn't feel the ship turning.

Do you have any sense of how big (LxWxH) the watertight compartment was that included you and your neighbor's cabins?

The water tight compartment ran the width of the ship, was about 20 feet long and reached up to the second deck about 10 to 12 feet above the third deck.

What could the crew and/or ship owners have done different, or more, either ahead of time, or during the incident, to have made things better?

1. assigned people to life boats
2. covered lifeboats
3. better survival suits broken out earlier

Do you think Lynne would mind answering any of the (55 or so) questions I sent you, or to relate what she thought happened, where she has a different belief than you about all of this? I would be interested in what she has to say.

I don't think she really wants to talk about it.

Thursday, December 06, 2007 5:22 PM


I found a fairly good account of things from a passenger on the National Geographic Endeavour, see link:

When I asked you today you said that your cabin had a sealed glass port hole and that a steel cover could be manually opened but that you were having trouble latching it properly. How far above the water line was the bottom of the port hole? And that you know of did all of the other 3rd floor cabins (on the starboard side) have one or more similar port holes? Could you please tell me more details about it, the problems you were having with it and what the crew did about this? Did you hear of anyone else having problems with the covers? In your estimation do you think the glass could have been broken by ice hitting it?

PS. I will be very interesting in looking at all of the pictures you took, especially of the insides of the ship.

Saturday, December 08, 2007 7:16 PM

Dear Dennis,

The porthole was approximately two feet above the water line. When it was open (between Ushuais and Stanly in the Falklands) looking out would often look like looking into a front loading washing machine. All the cabins on both the third deck and the second deck had port holes. All were covered after we left Stanly. The porthole was covered with a round steel plate. The plate was secured by three steel dogs. Each dog was an i-bolt with a three inch long "nut" going over the threaded portion. The bottom dog stuck, so it could not be moved up to secure the window. The two other dogs did secure the window. Previously they had tried to fix it. They had sprayed WD40 in the i part of the i-bolt to loosen it. It didn't work. The result was there was a half inch opening between the porthole and the cover at the bottom which of course tapered closer the further up the window you went. They tried once to fix it, and never got back to it again. When I left the cabin, the porthole was intact. That is, no water was coming in it and I didn't see any broken glass. It is possible later that it could have been broken, but still it wouldn't have let in a tremendous amount of water. No one ever discussed portholes so I don't know if anyone had a problem. When we got on and off the boat we could see the portholes and all looked covered.


In subsequent face-to-face discussions Pete noted the following:

The ship had bow thrusters.

The muster station had windows so they could look outside to see what was going on. Some time after assembling at the muster station Pete noticed that a large iceberg (which came up to about the height of the outside railing) was very near to the starboard side of the ship, but he doesn't remember feeling any impact with it.

The Captain stated at one point that they had succeeded in tearing away the wall where the leak had occurred and were attempting to plug it.

GAP sent Pete a check for almost all of what he paid for the full trip.

Pete has a number of pictures that he took of the inside of the ship including the engine room and his cabin.

D. Barkley
/ / /

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