Update, 5:20 p.m. EST: G.A.P. Adventures' M/S Explorer is now lying on its side close to the South Shetland Islands, in the Antarctic Ocean, BBC News reports. Click here to see a picture courtesy of the Associated Press. The ship was previously known as Lindblad Exploror and was the first purpose-built expedition ship, according to Cruise Critic contributor Doug Newman; it dates back to 1969.
(12: 45 p.m. EST) -- All passengers and crew have been evacuated from G.A.P. Adventures' M/S Explorer, which struck ice this morning off Antarctica. Though the captain and first officer initially remained onboard to pump water from lower decks, they too have abandoned ship, according to BBC News.
The impact left a fist-sized hole in the hull of the expedition ship, which is currently listing at about 30 degrees. Though the evacuees are reportedly in good spirits, Susan Hayes, vice-president of marketing for G.A.P. Adventures, told the BBC that "the outlook is not so positive for the ship at the moment."
There were 24 British and 14 American passengers onboard; other countries represented include Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, China, Ireland, Japan, Switzerland, Colombia and Sweden.
As we reported earlier, Hurtigruten's Nordnorge arrived on the scene to take evacuees from lifeboats and bring them onboard. Nordnorge will bring passengers to a Chilean air force base on King George Island; they are expected to arrive at approximately 5 p.m. GMT and will stay there overnight before being transferred tomorrow for flights home, G.A.P. Adventures told BBC News.
Ironically, one of Hurtigruten's other ships, Nordkapp, ran aground in Antarctica earlier this year (at the time, the company was known in the U.S. as Norwegian Costal Voyage); luckily there were no injuries -- and despite the fact that the ship leaked oil, the accident did not cause environmental damage.
According to the BBC, the Explorer was found to have five "deficiencies" at a recent inspection, including issues with watertight doors and lifeboat maintenance, and missing search and rescue plans. Chilean port inspectors also found six deficiencies during a March inspection in Puerto Natales.
The ramifications of G.A.P. Adventures' incident remain to be seen.
Families who have questions about their relatives and friends should call G.A.P. Adventures at 800-465-5600 extension 101.
--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor