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Cruise Ship Sinks Off Antarctica

In subfreezing temperatures and calm seas, the passengers were moved onto the Nordnorge in less than an hour.

Nordnorge Capt. Arnvid Hansen told BBC television in a telephone interview that the passengers didn't appear to be frightened during the rescue. "They were a little bit cold and wet, but in good condition," Hansen said as his ship sailed toward a Chilean naval base. "We brought on board warm clothes and food and accommodations, so they are in a good mood now."

Built in 1969 and specifically designed for polar travel, the 246-foot Explorer was the first passenger ship to traverse the Northwest Passage, the normally ice-locked route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific through the northern islands of Canada.

The ship's relatively small size -- 2,646 tons -- allowed it to navigate among ice floes. Its hull had been reinforced to withstand collisions with ice.

"It's very sad -- I was hoping she'd be retired and become a museum somewhere," said Sven-Olaf Lindblad, whose late father built the Explorer and founded the company that became Lindblad Expeditions, a partner with the National Geographic Society.

Lindblad said Friday that he didn't yet know the exact cause of the accident. "I'm perplexed that a hole of that size could have caused that much damage," he said. Lindblad worked aboard the Explorer with his father in the 1970s.

Tours on the Explorer cost about $10,000 per person, according to online travel companies that book the voyage.

With a crew that included marine and avian biologists, geologists and naturalists, the ship left the southern Argentine port of Ushuaia on Nov. 11 and headed toward the Falkland Islands, South Georgia island and the Antarctic Peninsula.

More than 37,000 people boarded Antarctic cruise ships during the 2006-07 high season, which ran from October through March, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators. That was an increase of more than 20 percent.

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