Nov. 23, 2007 — -- Passengers aboard a cruise ship to the Antarctic were roused from their beds and hustled into lifeboats early today, when an iceberg punched a small hole in the ship's side.
All 100 people aboard the Explorer were pulled safely from the frigid seas by a passing ship, but the Explorer was listing badly and its Canadian owners feared it would sink.
"The passengers are absolutely fine," Susan Hayes, vice president of marketing for GAP Adventures, the Canadian company that owns the Explorer, told The Associated Press. "They're all accounted for, no injuries whatsoever."
Hayes said 91 passengers, including 13 Americans, are currently on board the Nordnorge, a Norwegian cruise ship. The nine crew members are also safely on board.
The Explorer's emergency began when it struck a chunk of ice that tore a hole in its hull about the size of a fist, Hayes said. She called the evacuation process "calm," saying pumps were able to deal with incoming water until the Nordnorge arrived. Argentine rescue operations received the first distress call at 11:30 Thursday night.
A statement by the Argentine navy said that the captain ordered passengers to abandon ship about 90 minutes after the first call and that they and the crew took to eight semirigid lifeboats and four life rafts, with the captain leaving the ship later.
Still, Hayes said the ship is in danger of sinking. "It is listing. … There is a possibility we may lose the ship."
Capt. Arnvid Hansen, of the Nordnorge, said the rescue operation went smoothly. "All are aboard my vessel," he told Britain's BBCtelevision. "There are no afraid passengers or anything like that."
"They were a bit cold and wet, but in good condition. We have brought them aboard and gave them warm clothes and food and accommodation so they are in a good mood now," Hansen said.
The Explorer was listing badly off King George Island, which lies about 700 miles south of Cape Horn, the tip of South America.
The ship was in the middle of a 19-day cruise of Antarctica and the Falkland Islands that allowed passengers to observe penguins, whales and other forms of wildlife.
Earlier reports put the number of people on board at 154, but a spokesman said that was the ship's maximum capacity.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.