New Details on the Ship of Fools

The precise chronology of the Ship of Fools on December 23 has been a topic of interest on skeptic blogs, including my recent post demonstrating the falsity of Turney’s excuses. However, up to today, this chronology had received zero media coverage, despite several reporters from major media on the Ship of Fools.

Today, there are two stories (BBC and Sydney Morning Herald , both of which contain damning information (especially the latter.) Note embedded link in latter article h/t Bob Koss, with important details not reported in the main article.

Here are new details on the day’s chronology.

13:00 Ship Time (midnight GMT) – The first group left the ship (Luck-Baker). Luck-Baker reported that their instructions were as follows:

I was in the first group to leave the ship at about 13:00 ship time (midnight GMT on 23 December), and take a short zodiac journey across the water to the ice edge.

The excursion was already a couple of hours behind schedule. This was because one of the three all-terrain amphibious vehicles called argos that were to take us to the islands had earlier flooded with water while it was transported from the ship to the ice edge.

Once our group was on the ice, the 12 of us were divided among two quad bikes and two argos. Then we were driven to the Hodgeman Islands in a strong southerly wind which blew drift up into the air, creating a hazy visibility.

We were told that we would have a maximum of one hour at the islands, after the 20 minute drive to the site. Then we would have to be ready to return on the vehicles bringing the next party. This sounded like an efficient system of relaying teams back and forth between ship and the islands.

At 14:30 Ship Time (Luck-Baker) – only 90 minutes later – the captain of the vessel said that the ice was starting to close in and, according to Greg Mortimer, they “hit the evacuation button”.

However, it took over 4 hours to evacuate, a time that Mortimer agrees was an “excessively long time”.

According to the BBC report, the “initial message to evacuate the area was not heard by some key people”. They surmise that the radios might have been out of range and that “for whatever reason, people on the ice appear not to have responded to satellite phone calls made from the bridge.”

Luck-Baker also reports that the logistics was unequal to the evacuation:

However there was a lack of organisation to supervise and enforce it. A number of us were at the islands for about two hours, having wandered off in small groups with the scientist whose work we were particularly interested in.

In the thrilling environment in which we now found ourselves, it was easy to lose track of time. We were surrounded by Adelie penguins and Weddell seals, and the white cliffs of the great East Antarctic Ice Sheet towered high with both beauty and menace, in the middle distance.

So for example, when the vehicles arrived with the second party of visitors, there were only three people at the pick-up area ready to return to the ship.

One of those returnees was a female tourist who had fallen into freezing seawater through a snow-concealed tidal crack in the fast ice. She was wet up to waist height and needed to be transported back to the ship as quickly as possible.

Timing issue
The difficulty was there were too many people and not enough seats on the argos and quad bikes to take everyone back in one convoy – even when these vehicles were carrying one more passenger than they were designed to.

The SYdney Morning Herald SMH says that there were 22 people on the ice, of which 15 were at Hodgman Islands. They provide the following new detail map:

They have an interesting video showing the unloading of the Argos. They say that both Turney and Fogwill had satellite phones and that each of the six drivers/staff members had a VHF radio.

The SYdney Morning Herald account adds the remarkable claim that Turney took more passengers into the field even after the evacuation notice had been issued:

A passenger standing near Professor Turney overheard the voyage leader, Greg Mortimer, telling him over the radio to bring passengers back to the ship so it can leave. But minutes later, Professor Turney drove six more passengers into the field. The overloaded vehicle had no space to collect returning passengers.

The longer linked account expands as follows:

A passenger, who was standing near Turney when Mortimer called the leader from the ship’s VHF radio, recalled their conversation: “Chris, [captain] Igor has just said we need to expedite people back from the islands so we can get out of here,” said Mortimer.

Turney, standing on the ice edge, repeated the message to confirm he had heard right.
“Affirmative,” said Mortimer.
“If I take this lot out, how long can we stay?” Turney said.
Mortimer repeated that everybody needed to get back to the ship.

The passenger was stunned by the conversation, even more so when, a few minutes later, Turney loaded an Argo with six passengers and drove off towards the Islands.

Update Jan 22- In an interview with CNN today (h/t Alex C), Turney denied that there had been any warning at 2:30 pm, while admitting that he had taken “science team members” by Argo to the islands at 3:00 pm (after the captain and Mortimer claim to have issued a recall alarm):

We had – the team got out by about 5:30. We were still taking science team members out at 3 o’clock, or so. There wasn’t any concern, at the time, that this was a significant issue.

Turney also argued in the interview that this delay didn’t “matter”, on the grounds that they would have been toast anyway – not the most convincing excuse IMO.
End Update.

The BBC report continued:

At 3.43pm a passenger onboard the Shokalskiy overheard Mortimer again speaking with someone on the VHF: “Everybody get into a small area and wait until they get a ride back. They [are] not to walk anywhere [and] are to [stay] together,” the passenger wrote in their diary at the time. Fifteen minutes later a quad bike and an Argo arrived with another load of people, who were transferred to the ship via Zodiac.

“The anger on Greg’s face when we arrived back was noticeable,” said one passenger.

An hour and a half later and the final four on the ice, which included Turney, pulled up in the second Argo. Footage on a passenger’s Go Pro digital camera read 5.35pm.

It was 6.15pm before the Shokalskiy finally departed the fast ice.

Several passengers took video footage of the view from their porthole as the ship departed in open water. By 7pm ice topped with about a metre of snow surrounded the ship. It crawled through dense pack ice most of the night.

The SMH stated the usually loquacious Turney (and other expedition leaders) refused to answer questions about December 23:

Professor Turney, Dr Fogwill and Mr Mortimer all declined to answer questions about the events of December 23.

Mobile Sea Ice

The new BBC article also contains statements that (implicitly) support Climate Audit’s rejection of Turney’s untrue attribution of his problems to a breakout of “fast ice” that could not have mitigated.

Murray Doyle, captain of the rescue vessel, Aurora Australis (and presumably far more experienced than Turney) stated that, rather than conditions being impossible to predict or mitigate, “conditions around the Mertz glacier were typical for the past few years.”

Luck-Baker also quoted another source, not named but “with considerable nautical knowledge of East Antarctica”, who said that “with the weather forecast” as it was that day, “this was not a good place to be”.

Tony Press, head of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystem Coordinated Research Centre in Tasmania, also endorsed the obvious point that they needed to have a planned exit strategy in potentially hazardous conditions:

They need to plan accordingly and have an exit strategy which can be executed in timely fashion if the conditions become threatening.”

Turney’s defenders have attempted to transfer blame from the expedition to the Russian captain. However, Mortimer (though not Turney) squarely acknowledged that the delays were the “responsibility of the expedition team, not Captain Kiselev.”

Why Now?
The entrapment of the Ship of Fools has been the topic of many articles over the past month. Luck-Baker (and the Guardian reporters, Alok Jha and Laurence Topham) were embedded and timely reports would have been more relevant than puffs. Neither of the Guardian reporters have yet reported on events. And while Luck-Baker’s present article is welcome, it’s taken him a full month to write on the events of December 23. Why the silence until now?


  1. Mique
    Posted Jan 21, 2014 at 9:47 PM | Permalink

    Probably because the legal implications are horrendous. Someone is going to get sued, so there would be a whole lot of manoeuvring going on behind the scenes. Amazing that the Australian Academy of Science chose this moment to announce its award to Turney. Under all the circumstances, what a lovely own-goal.

  2. HaroldW
    Posted Jan 21, 2014 at 10:59 PM | Permalink

    The final line of Andrew Luck-Baker’s article: “The coming investigations may decide whether an expeditionary cocktail of working Antarctic scientists and accompanying tourists is a viable formula in an environment as unpredictable and dangerous as Antarctica.”

    I chuckled at the use of “cocktail” in this context, given an earlier mention of alcohol:

    Peacock said drinks were running low, with “just enough alcohol left to celebrate” the arrival of 2014.

    “We are preparing for evacuation to a dry ship so a few drinks seems reasonable, but we also have to be ready at a moment’s notice for the helicopter arrival so staying sober is important,” he said.

  3. Brian H
    Posted Jan 21, 2014 at 11:29 PM | Permalink

    When the blind lead the blind, …

  4. Ken
    Posted Jan 21, 2014 at 11:45 PM | Permalink

    Turney appears to lack any awareness whatsoever about the dangerous environment he was in. Those extra two hours were absolutely crucial.

    One must also question the two Guardian journalists, both of whom appear frequently with Turney in photos and interviews. Is there a personal relationship/friendship there that has clouded their ability to report on this large error in judgment? There was a story there to report and yet they didn’t reported it.

  5. flyingtigercomics
    Posted Jan 21, 2014 at 11:53 PM | Permalink

    Turney has now become a triple threat professor: Geography -> Climate Change -> Earth Sciences.

    Whatever gives him the most cred in the storms ahead one presumes.

  6. Margaret
    Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 1:57 AM | Permalink

    The timing may be because the passengers have just arrived back in Tasmania today.

  7. Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 2:39 AM | Permalink

    Didn’t the oh-so-experienced leadership team know that alcohol and extreme cold don’t mix?

  8. steven
    Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 2:42 AM | Permalink

    Bad Decisions…many of them
    1)Choosing vhf radios that have a 5 mi. max range, then going more than five miles from the ship
    2) Not tsking any safety precautions when they knew their radios weren’t working. Thus all the individual groups with just VHF had no communication in case of emergency
    3) Having back up sat phones and for all those hours not monitoring them at set intervals.
    4) Ignoring the demand of the captain to return to the ship, after you received direct instructions which you confirmed.
    6)Assuming the ice pak would be no problem after you plowed through it for 2 days, lost sight of it on satellite, knew the forecast was for high winds and blizzard conditions.

    And you did all of this with people who have no arctic experience.

    Turney is just not qualified to be a leader of an expedition. This was just a comedy of errors by people pretending to do science. I can see why the “real” scientists are not happy.

    • Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 7:27 AM | Permalink

      You say “real” scientists are not happy, but according to the Australian Academy of Sciences Turney is one of their stars. What that says about the others I could not say.

      • RichardLH
        Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 9:42 AM | Permalink

        I rather suspect that the AAS would love to not have given that award at this time. You know what they say about bad timing….

    • RichardLH
      Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 9:40 AM | Permalink

      Additional bad choices/decisions

      7)Using Gemini to tow Argo ashore as a method of shore support.
      8)Not changing the trip numbers/schedule after losing 1/3 of the on-shore transport.
      9)Continuing with the ‘science’ after the team leader had ordered a halt.

  9. ronniep
    Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 4:30 AM | Permalink

    Turney still pushing another tourist excursion after the captain’s evacuation order…tsk, tsk. From incompetent to mutiny, endangerment and willful recklessness. The captain should have put Turney in the brig without a turnkey. So far several Aussie groups collectively seem to bobbing and weaving to avoid the big bill Turney has arranged for them. So much for their collective scientific integrity.

  10. rogerknights
    Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 6:45 AM | Permalink

    Too bad Turney didn’t ‘fess up at once, hard though it would have been. By trying to cover up his culpability, he’s made things much worse for himself.

  11. Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 7:47 AM | Permalink

    I’ll take full credit for sussing out what must have gone on the critical Dec 23rd, 2013.

    • flyingtigercomics
      Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 4:39 PM | Permalink

      Absolutely. And you need to claim credit, because the lapdodg media, to the extent they report it at all in a “limited hangout” way, will be re-writing bloggers like you. They are incapable of not being lazy, and are some of the stupidest people on the planet.

  12. RichardLH
    Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 8:01 AM | Permalink

    I kept the Bunny up to date with all this info after his ‘drive-by’ on the other thread here.

    I stayed ‘annon’ to try and reduce the ‘ad homs’ but that didn’t work very well!

    • Gaelan Clark
      Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 9:25 PM | Permalink

      So that was you?

      Funny thing over there, “endemic” means one ship that stayed late in season to let the ice harden to offload heavy equip 12 years ago…..stuck on 21 June.

      They love the blissful ignorance.

      • RichardLH
        Posted Jan 27, 2014 at 1:13 PM | Permalink

        And continuously failed to update the post when the errors in the initial report he relied on were pointed out.

        Repeatedly, but politely, pointed out 🙂

        With the ‘ad homs’ at the level they are ,are you surprised I stayed anon?

  13. Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 8:16 AM | Permalink

    There’s a CNN interview with Chris Turney, which has just been posted on YouTube:

    There’s an interesting segment from the 3:54 mark:

    Interviewer: I don’t know whether you’ve seen it, but reports surfacing today in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper are talking about a 4-hour delay on a field trip to the Hodgeman Islands, which was led by you, that field trip.

    Chris Turney: Oh, really?

    Interviewer: And – yeah, and the skipper of the vessel was getting more and more worried about conditions there. And, sort of, the implication was that there was a delay in that expedition which meant the boat then got stuck, because the path back out to clear ice [sic] was locked up. Do you know anything about that?

    Chris Turney: No, actually the Herald guys suddenly raised this at the end of yesterday, just before we came in, and I didn’t know if they’d actually pursued that. I’m really surprised, to be perfectly honest. No, that’s massively exaggerated. We had – the team got out by about 5:30. We were still taking science team members out at 3 o’clock, or so. There wasn’t any concern, at the time, that this was a significant issue. In fact. even when we were leaving the area, people were still confident – in fact, even when we got caught in the sea ice on Christmas Eve, the hope was we’d be able to get out, we were only about two or four nautical miles from the sea-ice edge.

    Interviewer: So no delay in – no reason for the –

    Chris Turney: No, no significant delay, not at all – this was an enormous event, and I think that’s actually the real, key thing here. This was a huge movement of sea ice from one area to the other, and we just had no knowledge it was coming. And, ultimately, it wouldn’t have made any difference at all, absolutely not.

    Steve: thanks for this. Updated to include reference. So now Turney denies Mortimer’s that a recall notice had been issued, while admitting that he had taken “science team” onshore as late as 3:00 pm – confirming this part of the passenger account.

    • RichardLH
      Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 8:28 AM | Permalink

      That sequence of events is broadly similar to what was reported by other passengers but with a slightly different flavour to it.

      “At 2.30pm when Mortimer saw the fuzz on the horizon and the captain warned of sea ice moving in behind the ship, the voyage leader used the ship’s VHF radio to tell those with handheld VHF radios to move people back to the ship. …

      At 3.43pm a passenger onboard the Shokalskiy overheard Mortimer again speaking with someone on the VHF: “Everybody get into a small area and wait until they get a ride back … “The anger on Greg’s face when we arrived back was noticeable,” said one passenger.

      An hour and a half later and the final four on the ice, which included Turney, pulled up in the second Argo. Footage on a passenger’s Go Pro digital camera read 5.35pm.

      It was 6.15pm before the Shokalskiy finally departed the fast ice.”

    • Sven
      Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 9:46 AM | Permalink

      If I’m not missing anything, then it’s also interesting that Turney is now talking about moving SEA ICE and not fast ice any more…

    • Sven
      Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 10:42 AM | Permalink

      Quite funny also:

      “Oh, really?”

      “…actually the Herald guys suddenly raised this at the end of yesterday”

      • rogerknights
        Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 12:19 PM | Permalink

        Playing innocent? That’s not going to induce Mortimer and others who are in the know to pull their punches wrt Turney.

        (Incidentally, his turning a deaf ear to the satellite phone calls from the ship shouldn’t be forgotten.)

        • Steve McIntyre
          Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 1:00 PM | Permalink

          I can’t imagine why any reasonable person would believe Turney’s claim that no recall had been issued. Aside from Turney being less credible than Mortimer, the passenger evidence is damning. Maybe he’s hoping that Muir Russell will be imported to carry out an “inquiry”.

      • John H
        Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 2:08 PM | Permalink

        Strange as he has been on the same ship as the “Herald guys” for the last few weeks !

  14. GeorgeL
    Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 8:19 AM | Permalink

    It seems that Turney’s statement in his 26 November interview with the ABC’s Margot O’Neill was more of a prophecy than off the cuff remark:

    “CHRIS TURNEY: It’s that sort of extreme environment. The smallest mistakes can cascade into a disaster.”

  15. lapogus
    Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 8:27 AM | Permalink

    There is now one BBC reporter (Phil Mercer) who has begun to ask questions about the ill-fated the Turney Expedition – but as usual this video report is buried on the Asia section of their website –

  16. Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 10:37 AM | Permalink

    Look at Robbie Turney’s blog entry. It doesn’t make any sense in light of what happened. They lost an Argo but yet they piled up more and more people on the island party. In the end, there wasn’t enough room even with the Argos and quads to bring them back, even overloading the vehicles, and Turney was prepared to pitch a tent on the islands !! Incredible!

    We’ve been on several family trips, school and college trips. The rules in any large group event like this is:
    (1) people are not going to behave with single purpose. If there are some cautious ones, there are going to be a few antagonizers. This is the fundamental law of trips.
    (2) Sh** is going to happen. A small family trip, a small group of friends – things are fine. A larger group with no clearly defined leadership – mishaps and misadventures? Guaranteed. (If things go fine, that’s what makes them memorable). I’m sure each one of the posters here has a crazy story, or perhaps even tragic ones, when out on a trip. If one or more people are in charge of organizing the fun, you always have another one watching out for Mr. Murphy. (of Murphy’s Law).

    I think there might have been some pressure/temptation on the expedition to ‘set foot on Antarctica’, having gone all the way there. The responsibility of holding things together fell between the cracks of the tripolar leadership – the captain, Turney and Mortimer.

    Steve: Shub, did you watch the video of an Argo being transferred onshore (in the longform SMH article. If not, take a look.

    • RichardLH
      Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 12:34 PM | Permalink

      So it looks like they managed to flood the Argo whilst trying to get it up onto the ice after towing it to the ice edge.

      That is always going to be trick manoeuver. Getting a relatively heavy vehicle up a few feet into the air and safely onto the ice.

      One reason why I think that this sort of shoe support/landing was very poorly planned. Not something a ‘professional’ would consider.

  17. Donn Armstrong
    Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 11:09 AM | Permalink

    Nathan aka Nate Drake is still defending Turney and blaming the captain in the Nature article after the latest revelations.

    “For all we know Turney was recovering equipment and supplies in the field. I agree, it does sound like the captain issued a return order, but frankly by then it was too late. The article claims he waited until he saw sea ice moving to block the passage. At that point it already was too late, the order never should have been given, and the captain should have nixed the excursion before it went out. Of course Hind sight is 20/20, the captain either wasn’t aware of the weather, or ignored it (probably the unaware one, since it is quite unpredictable), and things got bad. Turney was probably collecting or shutting down and prepping equipment, as I’m sure you recall they serviced and placed monitoring equipment on the trip. They couldn’t have left equipment unsecured, and why the group allegedly went out is still unknown (and until it is supported by the captain himself I am a we bit skeptical, but I certainly grant it’s a legitimate possibility). My question to you is why does it matter? Why try so hard to lay blame on a scientist when a captain made a fools decision to allow an excursion in such a dangerous place? Could it have been the captains inexperience in the Antarctic, as his 20 years experience was at the opposite pole, and he was unaware of the unique problems in that particular region of the Antarctic? Who knows. It also sounds like the captain did not communicate the severity of the issue very strongly. We can play the blame game all day and night, but the reality is that weather happens, and ships get stuck in the Antarctic. Passenger ships, government ships, even the strongest ice breakers all need assistance every now and then. It doesn’t matter if Turney took out an umbrella and sipped on margaritas for 5 hours before getting back on board, the winds already shifted and the route was compromised by the time the order went out. Again, hind sight is 20/20 the captain shouldn’t have let the excursion leave the ship, Turney shouldn’t have went back out, yadda yadda, Ship go south, weather change, ship get stuck. Welcome to Antarctica.”

    I still think Drake is a PR firm supporting Turney.

    Steve: it’s interesting that Mortimer placed zero blame on the captain and accepted blame on the part of the expedition. If the vessel was caught only a few km from open water, then it seems to me that the few hours of delay become important: the vessel would presumably have been able to travel the few km during the 3 hours of delay. Even if the decision to allow the passengers to disembark was already unwise, which it probably was.


    • RichardLH
      Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 1:46 PM | Permalink

      Steve: “it’s interesting that Mortimer placed zero blame on the captain and accepted blame on the part of the expedition.”

      Indeed. I think that his report is going to be front and centre of any enquiry. It would seem that he deserves credit for taking due responsibility and not trying to shrug it off as Turney seems to be doing.

      Steve: Antarctic tour operators (Mortimer’s business) have longstanding relationships with Russian vessel operators and his business is more dependent on good relations with Russian vessels than with climate funding agencies. Different from the usual dynamic. Mortimer’s opinion is hardly gospel, but he certainly seems more credible than Turney, who, in the last few weeks, has made numerous untrue and self-serving statements.

      • Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 8:04 PM | Permalink


        Mortimer’s opinion is hardly gospel, but he certainly seems more credible than Turney, who, in the last few weeks, has made numerous untrue and self-serving statements.

        Mortimore seems to have been erratic from that day exactly a month ago (London time), Turney consistently bad. What’s the litigating equivalent of getting surrounded, then stuck in ice? Iconic’s the word, as Andrew Bolt says.

    • Donn Armstrong
      Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 6:40 PM | Permalink

      In responding to Drake after he said “What dose it matter?”, I replied,

      Nathan, It matters as to who pays for the rescue as you have pointed out more than once.

      He then made this bizarre comment.

      “Yes I agree 100%. But it won’t be Turney or his colleagues (perhaps sadly) unless some really bizarre back room legal deals are made. The only parties who can be held legally responsible are the owners and captain, or the expedition charter company. Honestly that is a worthwhile discussion to have though, as it seems the captain and expedition company are trying hard to legitimize a claim against the program itself. It isn’t impossible per-see for such a tactic to work, and I would be surprised (but not very) if it worked in this situation. I hope at the very least It isn’t simply left to be footed by the tax payers… although if the program leaders are forced to pay it will likely be tax payer money that is used anyway.”

      This sounds like something a defense attorney would say.

      In another comment Nathan said in responding to a comment about the captains orders he said:

      “The Captain is squarely responsible for the vessel and its passengers. The best course of action would have been for the captain to simply not off-load anyone, and leave the area. But he gave off loading the green light. In hindsight that was a mistake on his part. But of course mistakes are real easy to see in hindsight, and it probably appeared to be a routine and normal day to him. Turney should have got as many people back on board as quickly as possible. Now it does seem that he acted contrary to that, however without more information it is pure speculation that he didn’t have a legitimate purpose in heading away from the ship. Perhaps he took a few people to break down materials and help everyone get on the ship faster. I don’t know, and you don’t know yet (if ever). Either way, The captain could have prevented the excursion by not allowing it, and the people on the ice could have gotten back faster.”

      I confused. Is he trying to imply that when the captain gave the return order, Turney and the last group he took to the island were still on the ship? It doesn’t appear Nathan has read any of the most recent media articles nor will he acknowledge their authenticity.

  18. Oksanna
    Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 11:45 AM | Permalink

    The minutiae of the human decisions behind the Shokalskiy ship stranding, only now coming to light, are reminiscent of the events leading up to the 1996 Everest tragedy, as related by Jon Krakauer in his book Into Thin Air (1997). Apart from some notable ommissions in the book regarding the available weather reports (uncovered much later by Graham Ratcliffe’s A Day To Die For (2011)), Krakauer revealed the sheer arrogance of the team leaders, the poor timing, and the fatal consequences of ignoring the turn-around time.

    The commercialization of mountain climbing, taking inexperienced tourists into the death zone, also stood out in stark relief under the author’s spotlight.

    The part of the Shokalskiy story where it is reported (in Australian newspapers today) that team leader Turney allegedly disregarded Captain Kisilev’s order to return to the ship, took out more tourists as the ice closed in, and then was left waiting on the islands with a few remaining tourists in the late afternoon, preparing to set up tent if the ship left without them, engenders uncomfortable comparisons with Jon Krakauer’s recount of leader Rob Hall’s failure to turn his clients around, and of Hall and his client’s last fateful moments of life stranded below the Hillary Step as an icy dusk descended on the Himalaya.

    And for any that doubt that sea ice is dangerous, recall that it is the much lower Khumbu Icefall that is one of the most hazardous stages of an Everest attempt, not the actual summit. Douglas Mawson’s own sled team came unstuck on a benign-looking flat area of terrain that concealed a crevasse. The message is clear: arrogance and a cavalier Boy’s Own outlook have no place in the Home of the Blizzard, and especially when inexperienced clients’ lives are involved.

    Both scientists and tourists are lucky that everything precious, except perhaps for reputations, has emerged from this katabatic jaunt unscathed.

    Steve: Turney’s most recent statement was that the late trip took “science team” onshore, rather than “tourists”. Though, in terms of Antarctic experience, it’s not clear that all members of the “science team” (e.g. Eleanor Rainsley) had qualifying Antarctic experience that distinguished them very much from “tourists”.

    • Jud
      Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 3:42 PM | Permalink

      With more detail emerging of the events it does seem lucky that this group avoided a major disaster…

      SMH again…

      ‘Mortimer, who was in charge of the logistical operations of the voyage, made the decision to get everyone off the ice. “At this stage we were more concerned with the potential white-out onshore than potential for getting caught in the ice,” he wrote.’

      It sounds like there was a possibility of whiteout conditions descending. I imagine that would have been a very bad story for those stuck off ship.
      Rather than acting to immediately start the movement of people from off-ice to on-ship Turney appears to have done the exact opposite by adding both to the number of people on the ice, and the time required to evacuate.

      These people can consider themselves extremely fortunate.

      • tty
        Posted Jan 23, 2014 at 3:54 AM | Permalink

        Very lucky indeed. Among the other details that have emerged is the nature of the hull damage to Shokalskiy. This was at the junction of the hull and the bulwark forward. This is described as minor, not dangerous and not compromising hull integrity, which is almost certainly correct, to judge from pictures. What is more important is that it is about seven feet above the waterline and described as caused by an “ice tower” whatever that is supposed to be. It is almost impossible for sea ice (including compression ridges) to become that thick (remember that 90% is below sea level), so probably Shokalskiy side-swiped a growler (=small iceberg), easy to do in dense ice and whiteout conditions. This is a very dangerous thing to do, and may well have caused the captain to stop trying to get free of the ice.
        It is also stated that the captain’s call for assistance was due to worry about icebergs in the vicinity of the ship. Remember that icebergs are moved much more by currents than by wind, and that six feet thick sea ice impedes their movement very little if at all. Being stuck in ice, and possibly in the path of a moving iceberg is certainly an emergency situation.

        • Posted Jan 23, 2014 at 3:59 PM | Permalink

          It would be interesting to know exactly when the hull damage occurred. SMH says: “By 3am the next morning, Christmas Eve, the Shokalskiy was stuck. It also had a hole pierced through its portside bow, about three metres above the water – likely from its overnight ice ramming.”

          In “The Return to Mawson’s Antarctica – Part Four” from the BBC World Service, Andrew Luck-Baker reports on the morning briefing that took place on 26th December and mentions damage to the hull which had occurred “the previous day”, which would of course have been Christmas Day.

          In the briefing, Chris Turney mentions the damage to the tourists for the first time; this was something he says he had forgotten to tell them in the bar the night before.

          Earlier in the programme, Andrew and Chris are up in the crow’s nest on Christmas Day, discussing the icebergs they can see, which are being moved rapidly by the current, although not on a collision course with the ship. Chris seems amused by Andrew’s worries about the icebergs, and generally seems rather over-optimistic, hoping that the Xue Long (which had already been alerted) would just need a “minor detour” to free the Shokalskiy.

          It seems to me that there are two main possibilities:

          a) The damage happened in the early hours of 24th December, prompting the Shokalskiy’s captain to stop trying to get free of the ice, and also to request help from the Xue Long. Then there’s a gap of two whole days before this is communicated to the tourists, which seems quite surprising.

          b) The damage happened some time on 25th December, after the Shokalskiy had already become stuck. Given the likelihood that the damage was caused by a collision with a small berg, Chris Turney’s levity in the crow’s nest seems rather inappropriate, especially if the impact occurred after he had pooh-poohed Andrew’s concerns on the subject.

          Either way, Chris Turney comes across as not quite appreciating the seriousness of the situation they were in.

      • Oksanna
        Posted Jan 24, 2014 at 5:04 PM | Permalink

        Agreed, Jud, and I think leading others into ice fields while having foreknowledge of bad weather is damning. There are guidelines available on travelling over Sea Ice (see Chapter 17.1a “Weather”, page 195 of the following document):

        Click to access FieldManual-Chapt17SeaIce.pdf

        The narrative from Turney (and Mortimer) on the unexpected weather is contradicted by the passengers:
        From Shub Niggurath’s (invaluable) Climate blog:
        “On Sunday the 22nd, the passengers were aware a blizzard was forecast. Wrote Rice at around 8PM:
        Ah it must be because the days are now getting shorter that the weather has changed!
        There’s a blizzard on the way apparently!”
        and on Monday the 23rd the day of the Hodgeman trip….as Shubb related it:
        “As Kerry-Jayne Wilson, a penguin biologist running the Blue Penguin Trust put it, they
        ‘set out in blowing snow and near gale winds; it got worse’.”
        Andrew Luck-Baker in the BBC article which is linked in Steve’s main article above, says;
        “I was in the first group to leave the ship at about 13:00 ship time (midnight GMT on 23 December), and take a short zodiac journey across the water to the ice edge”….
        ….” Then we were driven to the Hodgeman Islands in a strong southerly wind which blew drift up into the air, creating a hazy visibility.”
        Note that the definition of a whiteout includes merely whipping up enough ground snow to obscure the horizon, for example so that people or a ship are invisible.

  19. Ed Forbes
    Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 12:04 PM | Permalink

    NPR is reporting this morning that at least one group who had supplies delayed or canceled is “in discussions” over $2.5 M ( US) in damages.

  20. michael hart
    Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 1:14 PM | Permalink

    “We were surrounded by Adelie penguins…”
    Which were also indicating that they should leave:

  21. b4llzofsteel
    Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 1:14 PM | Permalink

    Mortimer repeated that everybody needed to get back to the ship.

    This is the moderated version. In real Mortimer said: “Get your f@$%king @ss back over here NOW!!”

  22. pfm
    Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 2:51 PM | Permalink

    he excursion was already a couple of hours behind schedule. This was because one of the three all-terrain amphibious vehicles called argos that were to take us to the islands had earlier flooded with water while it was transported from the ship to the ice edge

    They neglected to put the bungs in, didn’t they? Real professionals, I don’t think.

  23. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 3:56 PM | Permalink

    As a small irrelevant personal detail: when I visited New Zealand South Island in December 2012 with my wife, mother and daughter, we drove down to the port of Bluff, the embarkation port for the Ship of Fools. It was extremely windy, to say the least. We were thinking of taking the ferry to Stewart Island, but decided against it.

    • tty
      Posted Jan 23, 2014 at 4:01 AM | Permalink

      If you happen to go there again, do take the trip. Stewart Island is well worth a visit, even though there is a distinct risk of being stranded there for a few days if there is a really bad gale. The place is deep in the roaring forties after all.

  24. Gerald Machnee
    Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 4:25 PM | Permalink

    Would the captain’s log contain his orders to return? Will that be made public?

    • John H
      Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 7:54 PM | Permalink

      I doubt that. The ships owner is a well known green activist.

  25. Russell Klier
    Posted Jan 22, 2014 at 8:01 PM | Permalink

    A global warming PR stunt that went bad and backfired. The world is left with thousands of images of climate scientists [surrounded by curious penguins!] on a big ship stuck in sea ice that extends from horizon to horizon [in the middle of summer!]. Also we see that the scientist in charge led a scooter full of tourists on a sight-seeing tour after a desperate call to return from the ship’s captain.

  26. ES
    Posted Jan 24, 2014 at 11:19 PM | Permalink

    Here are some pictures of Mawson’s Second B.A.N.Z.A.R.E. Voyage in 1931. They were stuck in pack ice for three weeks. Mawson said there was a lot more ice than in 1912.

    Stuck in the pack ice, Antarctica

  27. Posted Jan 25, 2014 at 1:42 PM | Permalink

    The usually loquacious Turney has not tweeted since Jan 21.

    • Posted Jan 25, 2014 at 2:26 PM | Permalink

      It’ll take time to get used to the fact that the expected laurel wreath has turned into a crown of thorns – poor lad.

  28. Katisha
    Posted Feb 22, 2014 at 3:41 AM | Permalink

    Who paid for the excursion?
    And the rescue?

    Not the taxpayer, I hope.

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