Friday, November 23, 2007

Chilean Base Saves 154 Castaways in Antarctica

"Canadian Explorer" sinks and may cause a huge oil spill

Near midnight on November 22, the "Explorer" a Canadian cruise ship hit a floating iceberg near the Presidente Eduardo Frei Base of the Chilean Air Force. In the collision with the ice, a gap was formed in the right side of the ship, very similar to what happened in the famous incident involving the Titanic. Fortunately another cruise ship, the Norde Norge was nearby and at approximately 6:30 a.m. was able to pick up the passengers that were in life rafts and take them to King George Island, very near to the Chilean Air Force base.
A Chilean Air Force plane was the first to sight the Explorer as it banked on a 45 degree angle and also took photos of the people escaping in four life boats and 8 Zodiac boats.
According to the company that owns the Explorer, among the passengers are 23 British citizens, 13 Americans, 10 Canadians , 10 Australians and one person from Hong Kong.
Facing temperatures of -2 ° Celsius the castaways were reported to have disembarked at the Presidente Frei Base, at 9 p.m on Nov. 23. The rescued passengers will be accommodated at the base's gym and will be transported by Chilean Air Force "Hercules" plane to Punta Arenas as soon as the weather conditions improve.
Also the Chilean Navy sent the "Viel" , one of its Icebreakers to the area to evaluate if the Explorer could be saved but the cruise ship was reported to have sunk by 8 p.m on Friday.
A Chilean Air Force plane was the first to sight the Explorer as it banked on a 45 degree angle and also took photos of the people escaping in the life boats.
The Explorer was built in 1969 and had already been involved in three shipwreck incidents, the most serious being in 1979 when the Chilean Navy rescued a crew of 70 persons that had been filming a movie in the Antarctica.

This year's incident could not have come at a better time since it reinforces the Chilean claim to sovereignty over this territory, contrary to a recent British claim to a huge amount of land. The British pretension includes most of the Chilean Antarctic Territory that has been established between 53° West and 90° West of Greenwich. According to the Chilean government, the South American country has most rights to the area due to the legal concept of "Uti Possedetis", whereby the former colonial power, the Kingdom of Spain had already established its borders since the 16th century. Also the peninsula were the Presidente Frei base is located is a natural extension of the Andes Mountains that has its southernmost tip in Chilean territory.

A Chilean naval mission was the first to land in Antarctica in 1820 captained by a Scotsman called Andrew MacFarlane. Along with his crew of Chilean sailors MacFarlane was the first to land in the Antartica as proven by the captain's log kept by Robert Fildes of the "Cora of Liverpool". In November of 1820 Fildes wrote that his ship came into contact with the "Dragon of Valparaiso" and was told by Captain Macfarlane said that the Chilean ship had been in the area for the past seven weeks and had even landed at Deception Island.

This is not the first time that Chile has come to the rescue of foreigners, a most memorable case is that occurred in 1914 as a British expedition commanded by Ernest Shackleton became stranded in the ice aboard its ship, the "Endurance" that finally sank in November of that year. With five other crew members Shackleton set off in a safety boat to the South Georgia Islands, the Falkland Islands and Uruguay, but failed to get help to rescue his remaining 17 comrades. Shackleton then traveled to the port of Punta Arenas,Chile where the local navy organized an expedition headed by Pilot Luis Pardo that rescued the men on August 30, 1916 under temperatures of minus 24 ° Celsius. Pardo´s ship returned to Punta Arenas five days later and was given a heroes welcome by the population and by many foreign press reporters that had traveled to cover the event due to the international interest of the story. The British government offered to pay Pardo a reward of 25,000 pounds for saving Shackleton and his crew but the Chilean officer did not accept the sum and stated that he had only "carried out his duty". Pilot Luis Pardo was promoted by the Chilean navy and in 1919 was appointed Consul in Liverpool, England.

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