Do ships still hit icebergs?
Next month marks the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic. The disaster spurred maritime nations to start monitoring icebergs, so why are ships still hitting them?
Shortly before midnight on 14 April 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank less than three hours later. The tragedy galvanised world leaders to hold the first Safety of Life at Sea convention to address the iceberg threat.
With only visual sightings and a shipboard radio to guide the Titanic safely through iceberg-infested waters, the liner was ill-equipped to detect its nemesis.
The conference after the sinking resulted in the International Ice Patrol (IIP), which was assigned to monitor “Iceberg Alley”, the infamous stretch of ocean around Newfoundland. The IIP has been monitoring the area ever since, using aerial patrols and radar to determine the limits of iceberg danger, which they broadcast in a daily bulletin.
In the southern hemisphere captains rely on programmes like the European Space Agency’s Polar View for real-time iceberg detection via satellite imagery.
But it still happens.
All of these advances could not prevent MS Explorer’s encounter with an iceberg on the evening of 23 November 2007. The 154 passengers had to abandon ship, floating on life rafts for several hours in icy waters. Everyone survived, but the incident was dubbed the “modern Titanic” in the New York Times.
Less than two months later another Antarctic cruise ship, the MS Fram, lost engine power and struck a glacier. The impact smashed a lifeboat, but the 300 people on board escaped unharmed.
Only last year an iceberg tore a hole in the hull of a Russian fishing boat cruising around the Antarctic. The 32-person crew threw cargo overboard to lighten the ship while waiting nearly two weeks for rescue.
There are no globally-collated figures for iceberg strikes, but they happen every year.
By Lauren Everitt
BBC News Magazine