Expedition Cruise Ship Stranded in South Atlantic After Partial Engine Failure

April 13, 2012

(11:50 a.m. EDT) -- A Dutch polar expedition ship carrying 73 passengers and 42 crew is stranded at a South Atlantic island after suffering a partial engine failure.

The Plancius, an ice-class vessel operated by the Dutch company Oceanwide Expeditions, is anchored in a bay outside South Georgia's Grytviken, a "former whaling station and now a popular stop-off spot for cruise ships visiting Antarctica," reports Agence France-Presse. (A file photo is pictured right.)

A press release issued Thursday by Oceanwide says all passengers and crew are "safe and sound" and that there is no threat to the environment. The "Atlantic Odyssey," a 32-night Ushuaia-to-Cape Verdes Islands voyage that began March 29, was interrupted on April 9 when the Plancius experienced a "mechanical dysfunction of the main propulsion system causing a reduced propulsion power." As a result, the ship can sail at a maximum of 4 to 5 knots in calm conditions, said the line. That means it won't be able maintain course in the rough seas of the open ocean.

All passengers -- mostly Dutch and American -- will be taken to Montevideo, Uruguay, on the chartered passenger vessel m/v Ushuaia, which is scheduled to depart from Grytviken on April 18. The m/v Ushuaia should reach Montevideo on April 24, at which point passengers will be flown home. In the meantime, the line called onboard spirits good ("given the circumstances") and said passengers are embarking on walks as part of a makeshift excursion program organized by expedition staff.

After passengers are transferred to the m/v Ushuaia, a tug boat will help tow Plancius to a port equipped to make repairs. Oceanwide has not said where Plancius will be fixed. We've reached out to the company by e-mail to see what the passenger compensation will be.

According to Oceanwide's Web site, Plancius was built in 1976 as an oceanographic research vessel for the Royal Dutch Navy and was named "Hr. Ms. Tydeman." The ship sailed for the Dutch Navy until June 2004 and was eventually purchased by Oceanwide.

This incident is just the latest in a string of recent cruise ship engine failures. In March, Azamara Quest suffered an engine room fire that injured five crewmembers and left the ship adrift off the southern Philippines coast. In February, an engine fire left Costa Allegra inert in the Indian Ocean. Cunard's flagship, Queen Mary 2, has also been plagued with engine troubles over the past year.

--by Dan Askin, News Editor