Will Your Antarctic Cruise Get Stuck?

January 3, 2014
(3:21 p.m. EST) -- Thick ice in the Antarctic trapped some 52 passengers and 20 crew members on an expedition ship Christmas Day, resulting in a one-week wait for rescue. Here are the answers to some questions you might be asking about the incident and what it means for Antarctic cruising in general.

Was MV Akademik Shokalskiy on a typical Antarctic sailing?

No. The expedition ship, which is sometimes used by Australian expedition cruise operator Aurora Expeditions, was charted by a scientific expedition retracing the steps of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1914. Most passengers onboard were scientists, but a few members of the general public interested in recreation were onboard, too.

Was the ship in an area visited by most Antarctic cruise ships?

No. According to Lindblad Expeditions' spokeswoman Patty Disken-Cahill, MV Akademik Shokalskiy was in the Commonwealth Bay area of Antarctica, which is some 3,000-miles away from the Antarctic Peninsula, where most Antarctic cruises sail. A handful of ships also go to the Ross Sea area, but even that is about 750 miles from Commonwealth Bay.

Is getting trapped in ice something I have to worry about if I take an Antarctic cruise?

No. Expedition cruise lines know which areas, such as Commonwealth Bay, are notorious for ice and avoid those areas. Disken-Cahill said ships are often surrounded by ice, "but ice of a very different nature than experienced in Commonwealth Bay which is renowned for impenetrable ice and bad ice conditions. Being in and amongst the ice is part of the Antarctic experience, so long as you have a properly suited vessel."

What precautions do "regular" ships take to safeguard against getting stuck?

All cruise lines that operate in the Antarctic are members of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, which sets guidelines to ensure that travel in the region is safe. And, as stated above, cruise lines typically stick to areas that are known for being mostly ice-free. Some operators, like Quark Expeditions and G Adventures, use ships with ice-strengthened hulls for extra protection.

What are the risks I might face?

The biggest risks that average Antarctic cruise passengers face are seasickness from rough water, especially through the notorious Drake Passage, and missing ports of call because of bad weather.

-by Dori Saltzman, News Editor