Svalbard cruise passenger killed

An American cruiseship passenger in her 60s was killed and three others  injured when a rubber inflatable boat that was carrying them closer to shore in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard was hit by a wave. All 13 persons on board the boat landed in the icy Arctic water.

The fatal accident occurred here in the Krossfjord off Spitsbergen. PHOTO: Arild Lyssand/Sysselmannen på Svalbard

The fatal accident occurred here in the Krossfjord off Svalbard’s main island of Spitsbergen. PHOTO: Arild Lyssand/Sysselmannen på Svalbard

Local authorities reported that the accident occurred as the passengers on board the cruiseship Sea Spirit were being taken on a sightseeing excursion along the northern portion of the Fjortende Julibukta (the 14th of July Bay) in the Krossfjord. The area is located near the Northwest Spitsbergen National Park, north of both Svalbard’s administrative center of Longyearbyen and the settlement at Ny-Ålesund.

Details remained sketchy as local officials tried to determine how events unfolded before they got their first call for assistance at around noon on Monday. Emergency crews were told a woman had been injured in a boat accident in the Krossfjord and was being examined by the cruiseship’s doctor.

“The first report we got was that a woman needed medical treatment,” the deputy governor Svalbard, Lars Erik Alfheim, told local newspaper Svalbardposten. “We therefore sent our Super Puma rescue helicopter with a doctor on board.”

When the helicopter reached the cruiseship, the woman was dead, Alfheim said. Three others in the boat that’s also used for ship-to-shore shuttles and excursions suffered what officials later called “minor” injuries. Two of them were flown in the rescue helicopter to the hospital at Longyearbyen for treatment.

Autopsy report pending
He said the authorities hadn’t yet established the circumstances around the accident and the woman’s cause of death was unclear. She lost consciousness during the accident and her body was being sent for autopsy, according to a press release from the local governor’s office on Svalbard (Sysselmannen på Svalbard).

The accident is under investigation. The governor’s office reported Tuesday that the witnesses told them the boat was hit by a large wave and “tossed around.” All its passengers were hurled into the water and later swept ashore.

The Sea Spirit cruiseship is operated by Quark Expeditions of the US and billed as an “all-suite ship” in the luxury segment of the cruise industry. It carries a maximum of 114 passengers, compared to the thousands on board large cruiseships, with 15 of its large suites offering private balconies.

The vessel is approved for polar waters and offers cruises in both the Arctic and Antarctic, South Georgia and the Falklands (Malvinas). Quark Expeditions’ website reported that the vessel was equipped with rubber inflatable boats, called Zodiacs, for shore transfers and excursions.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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  • paulmotter

    I have cruised in the Svalbard archipelago and I have to say I became instantly aware of how dangerous these tours can be. The water temperature is near a constant 32-degrees (0 centigrade) and falling into that water a person could easily suffer hypothermia very quickly. Also, if a person is not dressed perfectly for that climate, meaning fully waterproof clothing head to toe, their body temperature may already be dangerously close to hypothermia before they fall in.

    I have written articles about this where I stress just how important it is to know exactly what clothes you need before you take this cruise. In addition, any boat operator who would drive a zodiac so fast that people could bounce out is not acting responsibly. I know, I had a similar driver during my cruise on a different line. These are very dangerous waters (this is NOT Alaska).

    • eimsc

      I have recently returned from a trip on the Sea Spirit in Antarctica. The Quark staff showed an incredibly high level of professionalism at all times and gave very precise safety briefings before all excursions.
      What a horrific tragedy and my thoughts go out to the family of this woman and the injured.

    • disqus_EgdaA4jUfD

      It is very sad. I am also sad to see the Quark wants to cover this up from the public. That tells me that they do not want people to know the true risks they are taking. Quark is in this for the money.

      • paulmotter

        These are complicated situations. The truth is that these cruises are not for people who are not aware of the dangers of polar exploration. You can’t completely blame Quark, as I said I was on a similar cruise and the driver did the same thing. These tours are not led by Willy Wonka – they are adventure cruises. So, I am not sure why you would say Quark is trying to cover it up – the story is out here. Maybe not a lot of people have experience with this part of the world so the media isn’t on fire about it.