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Everyone asks: is Antarctic travel in trouble?

31/01/2014 Michael Gebicki
Akademik Shokalskiy © Andrew Peacock Akademik Shokalskiy

Is the recent event that saw the Akademik Shokalskiy trapped in thick ice for 10 days an ominous sign for Antarctic travel?

It sounds an alarm bell. According to a recent report by Andrew Luck-Baker, who was covering the expedition for the BBC World Service’s Discovery programme, the change in the ice situation occurred rapidly and unpredictably.

At the time, passengers were ashore on the Hodgeman islands. In mid-afternoon the Russian captain noted the ice closing in and was anxious to sail into clear water, however the last passengers did not return to the vessel until almost four hours later.

Crucial to this delay, the hand-held VHF radios used to communicate between the ship and the shore party were at the limit of their range and it was difficult to convey the urgency of the situation.

Nor did the shore group respond to satellite phone calls made from the bridge.

Compounding the problem was a lack of supervision of the shore party, who were allowed to stay on the ice longer than the allotted one-hour maximum.

The subsequent entrapment of the vessel highlights the need to enforce strict protocols when operating in a hostile environment, and if you’re potentially in harm’s way and can’t understand what the person on the other end of the radio is trying to tell you, it’s time to get the hell out.

The Akademik Shokalskiy stuck in Antarctic sea ice. © Andrew Peacock The Akademik Shokalskiy stuck in Antarctic sea ice.
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