Antarctic Tourist Ship Foundering in Drake Passage

The Antarctic tourist ship Clelia II is making slow headway north of the Shetland Islands, having yesterday lost power and communications in the midst of 30-foot seas in the notorious Drake Passage.

"Clelia II" In Trouble off Tip of Antarctic Peninsula, Photo Copyright Stewart/McIntosh

None of the 88 passengers on board, all from the United States, are reported injured; one of the 77 crew members apparently suffered minor injuries.

The ship was slowed in heavy seas after reported thirty to forty foot seas broke windows in its bridge, taking out its communications equipment. It  left the Antarctic Peninsula 24 hours ago, headed for a two-day return to port in Ushuaia, Argentina. The ship’s captain reported that in the 159 trips he’d made to the Peninsula he’d “never seen such weather.”

"Clelia II" In Trouble off Tip of Antarctic Peninsula, Photo Copyright Stewart/McIntosh

According to reports from Argentine wire service the ship has diminished power and is beating into heavy winds; it was passed by National Geographic Explorer, also returning to Ushuiaia after an Antarctic Peninsula tour, roughly 500 miles south of the tip of South America.

According to an account from a passenger on the Explorer, the Lindblad Expeditions ship passed the Clelia II which was making just one knot per hour, but could not make contact with its crew except by VHF radio.

The Explorer changed course and traveled 16 miles to attempt to aid the stricken ship.

"Clelia II" In Trouble off Tip of Antarctic Peninsula, Photo Copyright Stewart/McIntosh

It took two tries by the crew of the Explorer to send a satellite phone via a small “rocket propelled” cannister to the ship. Distress calls went out from the Explorer, which spent most of today standing by. According to a report from Buenos Aires the Clelia II has limited power and though making headway towards South America is hoping seas will calm.

The Chilean navy’s Rescue Coordination Center reported that the Chilean vessel ATF Lautaro was dispatched to the area to aid the cruise ship. However, the head of operations for the Southern Naval Area, Lt. Cmdr. Lucio Lopez, told radio stations that since the Chilean ship is 18 hours from the Clelia II.

One year ago – December 26, 2009 – the same ship, chartered by New York-based Travel Dynamics International, ran aground along the Antarctic Peninsula, its starboard propeller hitting the rocks resulting in the shutdown of the starboard engine and loss of electrical power aboard the ship. Another tourist ship, the Corinthian II, was nearby and helped pull it off the rocks.

"Clelia II" In Trouble off Tip of Antarctic Peninsula, Photo Copyright Stewart/McIntosh

According to its website, the 290-foot Clelia II was launched in 2009 as an Antarctica and Arctic tourist ship, after extensive refurbishment, redecoration and other improvements. It is billed as a “private yacht-like cruise ship (which) accommodates only 100 guests in 50 suites, each of which affords ocean views, measures 215 square feet or more and is appointed with a sitting area or separate living room, twin or queen-size beds, spacious closets, air conditioning.”

"Clelia II" In Trouble off Tip of Antarctic Peninsula, Photo Copyright Stewart/McIntosh

"Clelia II" In Trouble off Tip of Antarctic Peninsula, Photo Copyright Stewart/McIntosh

Satellite Phone Readied to be "Shot" to "Clelia II," Photo Copyright Stewart/McIntosh

"Clelia II" In Trouble off Tip of Antarctic Peninsula, Photo Copyright Stewart/McIntosh

"Clelia II" In Trouble off Tip of Antarctic Peninsula, Photo Copyright Stewart/McIntosh

"Clelia II" In Trouble off Tip of Antarctic Peninsula, Photo Copyright Stewart/McIntosh

Posted in Antarctica

45 comments to “Antarctic Tourist Ship Foundering in Drake Passage”

  1. I was wondering if a friend is on this ship?

  2. Well, that looks exciting ! However, not good since we are due to sail on this ship on December 17th.

  3. Pray for all onboard, they are getting a crazy ride and I’m sure without food and drink. My parents are on this ship and the company has assured us they are safe.

  4. My father and his wife are on this ship……pray for a safe return.Love you

  5. hi i’m a producer with abc news, we are trying to reach people who know passengers and crew onboard this ship. please email me if you do.

    thank you

  6. Thoughts and prayers go out to those on board.

  7. Well, as a follow up OAT called and said all were safe on board the Clelia II and that they were told that engines did not fail that it was electrical. The ship is now on aux power. The Clelia II now plans to sail again on the 17th.

  8. Am the executive producer at MGI News, LLC. We’re looking for footage taken by passengers or crew aboard the “Clelia II” as well as copyright owners of the footage taken from the Explorer. We pay license fees.

  9. [...] None of the 88 passengers on board, all from the United States, are reported injured; one of the 77 crew members apparently suffered minor injuries. The ship lost an engine in heavy seas after leaving the Antarctic Peninsula 24 hours ago, headed for a two-day return to port in Ushuaia, Argentina. The ship’s captain reported that in the 159 trips he’d made to the Peninsula he’d “never seen such weather.” [Read the rest.] [...]

  10. The ship is now back up to full speed and all is well. When the wave broke the window it took out some electrical connections via the dowsing, and all has now been repaired. I am ASSUMING that the window that broke has also been replaced, one way or the other, or they have a very cold bridge. Anyway, due back in port early Friday as of now. There is a press release to this effect out now.

  11. thanks Robert! sounds like you actually heard something from the “Clelia II” … which is good news. learn anything else of interest? thanks, Jon

  12. This tourist boat doesn’t look like it is built for rough waters. It doesn’t look like it has much of a bow. To me, it looks like it belongs in Alaska’s Inland Passage, Glacier Bay, or blue water generally, certainly not the southern seas. I think the boat owners are pushing a very dangerous path.

  13. Marc, I had the same thought. Watching her waddle in the water is scary, and should she hit ice, I can’t imagine the hull is strong enough……

  14. I agree this ship does not look big enough or well built enough for the southern ocean and I hope & prey that ALL on board get to Argentina and land safely

  15. Did anyone get footage of the actual foundering and then, the apparently very quick salvage? I see no pictures of the Celia II completely submerged (foundered — a nautical term meaning essentially sunk) only a boat adrift in rough seas.

  16. How’s the fool walking up the port side of “Clelia ll’.

  17. Been there done that. My wife Margie and I were passengers on the Caldonean Star on March 2, 2001 when the ship was hit and disabled by a huge rogue wave between the Falkland Islands and Ushuaia. At the time we were hove to experiencing 90 to 130 knot winds. Five bridge windows and 3 officers quarters plus the starboard wing bridge were destroyed. The ship listed to about 60 degrees before righting. The captain and crew did hero work to get the ship back into the wind and when things calmed down managed to get it to port. The successor ship to the Cal Star is the National Geographic Lindblad Explorer. Ironic!

  18. My wife and I are suppose to pick up this ship next Friday so, Mr. Campbell, we will look for you. I called OAT yesterday at noon and was told that everything was just hunky-dory, that the ship never lost an engine and that it was proceeding at 13 knots. I was also informed that while some communication equipment was damaged, back-up equipment was working just fine. I must say that the information I have received from other reputable sources tends to contradict this rosy assessment. I certainly hope that OAT is being straight with everyone. My wife and I were suppose to be on this tour last year at this time, but the cruise was canceled due to “mechanical” difficulties. Now it appears that the ship ran aground last year, damaging a propeller. Oh, Captain. My Captain! Apparently, The Explorer had to “rocket” a satellite phone to the ship in order to provide it with communication capability. So much for back-up equipment. Should be interesting. JJP

  19. Jeffrey: I would be having second thoughts too………………………

  20. My parets are on this ship. Recieved a call from OAT Tuesday night which completely downplayed the conditions I see on the video…

  21. I was told the ship is supposed to come to port by 8am Argentina time tomorrow morning, if anyone has family or friends on the ship please contact me, Fox News Channel National is looking for members on board for live phone interviews between 9-11a EST. You can email me at thank you

  22. I agree with those who think she isn’t entirely suited for the Drake Passage. Check out the MV Plancius to see a more ocean worthy vessel (google it)

  23. This is what comes of sending unqualified craft into those treacherous waters.

    I was there aboard a Russian-built icebreaker converted to civilian use and she handled Beaufort 10 with no trouble whatsoever during our Drake crossing.
    Yes, even tiny boats SOMETIMES make it safely across but do you really want to roll those dice with your life at stake? If you lose your engines, your life can easily follow in a few heartbeats. Select your sub-arctic cruising craft carefully folks.

  24. Hey Jeffrey,

    With this info and the problems last year and with a problem that both you and I share, Rick and I think you guys are crazy to even remotely consider going on this ship. AND we are considered very adventuresome by all our friends…..


  25. I was a passenger on the National Geographic Explorer that helped out the Clelia II. The Drake Passage was bad during this time and that’s why the ship was bobbing about. You’ll notice the Explorer bobbing about too. The waves were reported to us to be about 10 meters in some places and the wind was strong as well. We were told that the waves broke off some railing on the Clelia II which broke the window onto the bridge. Apparently that doused electrical equipment dealing with navigation and the engines. They spent about half an hour bringing up back up systems, during which times they were going slowly, but recovered their engines later that day. The Explorer had not passed the Clelia II – we were going a slightly different track to minimize wave impact and re-routed upon recevining calls from the Clelia II via VFS radio. Apparently the Clelia II has Iridium phones on a pre-paid plan and the plan ran out of minutes and so they needed another phone line to reactivate their account. The Explorer has several extra satellite phones onboard and offered to lent the Clelia one of their extras. The Explorer used a rocket launch type thing to send a line across (it took three attempts to get the line onto their deck) and then the phone was sent over via that line.

    So although it was a difficult passage for all in the Drake at that time and probably worse for the poor passengers of the Clelia II, the Clelia did get their backup systems running and would have made it into port even without the help of the Explorer. We all know the Drake can be dangerous and you should choose your ship carefully, but I think it just made for an unpleasent trip, not a life threatening one.

  26. thanks Amy, glad you’re back safe and sound in Ushuaia/Santiago. Couldn’t agree more that accidents happen … and we’re all happy that the “Clelia II’s” was without any worse result. Otherwise, I’m assuming your Antarctic Peninsula experience was fantastic?? Jon

  27. My husband was on an aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean way back and he even said this ship episode looked bad. I thank God I wasn’t on it.

  28. Should anyone be interested in going to the Arctic/Antarctic, here is a link to the site where you can locate the ship I sailed on to Antarctica as mentioned above. She and her sister ship also sail the Arctic.
    These are real icebreakers, kids, they were made for very challenging conditions so you can sleep in peace aboard. I highly recommend them.

  29. My in-laws are on the Clelia II and we just received and email from them. They are fine. They were in probably the storm of the century but at no time were they without an engine. They were bouncing around quite a bit but they didn´t feel like we were in peril at any time. My mother in- law was thrown out of bed twice but that was about the worst of it for both of them. We are very, very happy they will be home soon. Love you Larry and Freddie!

  30. [...] what one poster on the website of Antarctic explorer and flimmaker  Jon Bowermaster says. Amy Gitnick says she was a passenger on the National Geographic Explorer ship, which [...]

  31. Jon and Fiona
    I was completely disappointed at the two of you for publishing this news story that created so much damage, and that left our friends and relatives so worried. I expected that a journalist of your caliber would not sensationalise a story like this publishing things that are just plainly not true.
    I was on board the Clelia 2. We were never “without power”, nor were we “passed by” the NG Explorer. She did deviate from her route to aid us, but never backtracked. Also the Explorer did not “stand by for most of the day.” After they managed to send us the satelite phone the Explorer resumed its course – because the Clelia 2 was in no immediate danger. We had power and steering, and the Captain had control of the ship at all times.
    Your story gave the impression that we were adrift in the storm, and that was never the case.

  32. Thank you Claudia, I look forward to a full report from someone who was onboard. Is it true, per a comment above by someone who was aboard the Explorer, that the reason the Clelia II needed a sat phone was because the minutes on it’s card had expired? Or is that an exaggeration?

  33. Phyllis: Not to worry. It appears that there has been some exaggeration about what occurred with the ship, and we have every confidence in the professionalism of the Captain and the crew. I must say, however, that I find the observation that the ship’s phone was on a minutes “plan” and that the plan expired to be a real hoot! I will have to explore this once I get on board on Friday. I think it will be great fun to interview the Captain and the crew about the Passage from Hell. While I am confident that things will go just fine, I sincerely hope that there is no Clelia III in the works any time soon!!!! Take care. JJP

  34. Just back safely in Buenos Aires after a thrilling “ride” on the Clelia II in the Drake Passage. Can’t speak highly enough of the professionalism, calm, thoroughness and concern exhibited throughout by the entire OAT Antarctic tour guide and support team, OAT leadership and back office team, as well as by the Clelia Captain, expeditionary team and ship’s crew. In a difficult situation, we felt, on balance, extremely well served.
    Joan B.

  35. Jeffrey: Well it is now clear that there are many versions of what happened. I’ll see you Friday ,onboard, and well find out together. The people on the Good Morning America show in seemed very happy with the outcome and Joan B seems to agree. After 6 trips I’ve come to trust OAT staff.

  36. Harris: We got the word Saturday night that the trip had been canceled. I had called OAT last week and they had assured me that they were on top of things and that the trip was “a go,” etc. Of course, this was the second time this trip was canceled. At this time, I don’t know whether we will sign up for next year or not. Two weeks ago, I underwent surgery for retinal tears and retinal detachment. Instead of introducing an air bubble to keep the retina in place, oil was used so that I could still fly. Now, I have to undergo another procedure to have the oil evacuated which, it turns out, would have been unnecessary. My wife and I would like to know what you intend to do. Do you think you will sign up again? We also have been on 6 or 7 OAT trips, and have been very pleased, but this trip seems to have a target on it. If you wish, you can write me at JJP

  37. Has the company given you any idea when the ship will resume its trips to Antarctica?

  38. Jon: No, but I will bring it up when they call us which should be in the next day or two. JJP

  39. Hi Jon,
    It has been a REALLY long time but I knew you once upon a time in Des Moines. These days I am supporting research on the Antarctic Peninsula and the 2 NSF contracted research vessels. One of my staff members happened to be on the Explorer during the event and had some pretty harrowing stories to tell. He is an OAE and this was just one to add to his numerous crazy adventures. Thanks for your excellent support of the Antarctic. Cheers, LP

  40. Jeff: Well OAT called and the next cruise is a go as far as they know now. As for us we will try again next December 19th to fly south for the cruise on the sister ship Corinthian II. Maybe we will meet then.

  41. Harris: Good for you. My wide and i are considering our options. JJP

  42. [...] Antarctic Tourist Ship Foundering in Drake Passage from December 2010 [...]

  43. [...] weren't just in the area, however, and they had been contacted by the Clelia II via radio. Documentary filmmaker Jon Bowermaster wrote that the Clelia II had run out of prepaid satellite phone minutes. After multiple attempts to [...]

  44. Hello all

    I am writing from a British production company called Arrow Media and hoping to speak to anyone involved in the Clelia II incident from 2010. We are currently producing a series looking at extreme waterways around the world.

    If anyone is interested in speaking to me further about their experience please get in touch for a confidential chat:

    Many thanks,


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