‘Berserk’ captain draws more critics

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UPDATED: Authorities in New Zealand and Norway fear the former captain of the ill-fated vessel Berserk, which disappeared in Antarctica last year with three crew members on board, is making another illegal attempt to reach the South Pole by first sailing into the area on a different vessel. Others now claim Jarle Andhøy is instead trying to find out what happened to the Berserk, but his new venture is drawing massive criticism. New Zealand’s Customs Service has launched a search for both Andhøy and a young companion believed to be with him.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Norway’s Foreign Ministry, the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Justice Ministry are “in dialogue” regarding the whereabouts and plans of Andhøy and Norwegian teenager Samuel Massie, who was also with Andhøy when the two failed to reach the South Pole last winter.

While they were trekking towards the pole last February, hoping to be the first Norwegians to arrive in the so-called “Polar Year” meant to honor legendary explorers Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen, the Berserk boat that had carried them to Antarctica and was supposed to pick them up disappeared in a storm. Andhøy’s three crew members who’d remained on board the Berserk, two other Norwegians and a South African, are believed to have been killed.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported Thursday that Andhøy had said in December that he and Massie planned to return to Antarctica, to honour their Berserk crew members, search for the vessel and find some answers to the boat’s disappearance. Andhøy told Aftenposten and some other friends, according to NRK, that he couldn’t understand why the Berserk had left the “safe” spot where it had tied up, while Andhøy and Massie tried trekking to the South Pole.

Andhøy had never obtained the authorizations needed for his entry into Antarctica last year, nor had he arranged any insurance for the expedition. He brushed that off, claiming that neither Nansen nor Amundsen had to deal with such requirements and that the outdoors and the sea “are for everyone.” He has no authorization for his current venture either, which has irritated and embarrassed Norwegian authorities. The mother of one of Andhøy’s missing crew members, Tom Gisle Bellika, told NRK she was “shocked” to hear that Andhøy was breaking all the rules again and possibly endangering others, calling his new venture “terrible.”

Andhøy has rejected claims that he was irresponsible, contending that all his crew members were aware of the risks involved. He had no insurance, though, to cover the costs of the massive search and rescue launched by New Zealand when his vessel disappeared, and he was later fined for failing to meet internationally accepted legal and environmental requirements for Antarctic expeditions, and violating Norwegian law regarding them.

A spokesman for Norway’s Foreign Ministry told NRK on Wednesday that Andhøy’s latest trip puts Norway in an “awkward” position, while authorities also have claimed it could risk the lives of more people if another search and rescue mission is required. Several Norwegian polar experts and even author Ragnar Kvam have criticized Andhøy’s venture as well.

New Zealand authorities were searching for Andhøy, believed to be on board a vessel called MS Nilaya that recently was advertised for sale in New Zealand, according to website Auckland Now (external link). Radio New Zealand reported that all vessels in the Southern Ocean were told to be on the lookout for the Nilaya.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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