119 Americans Stranded After Cruise Ship Runs Aground off Antarctic Island

A Norwegian cruise ship with nearly 300 passengers on board ran aground in the Antarctic and damaged its hull before getting free of rocks, a ferry company said. No one was injured.

The 294 passengers were being evacuated Wednesday from the M/S Nordkapp to a sister ship as a precaution, though a spokeswoman for the group, Hanne K. Kristiansen, said there was no danger to the passengers or the vessel that ran aground.

"This is not a critical situation," she said.

The vessel ran aground Tuesday near Deception Island, which is part of the Antarctic archipelago South Shetland Island.

By Wednesday, the ship had dislodged itself from the rocks and was anchored in Walker Bay waiting for the sister vessel, the Nordnorge, to take the passengers, Kristiansen said by telephone.

The passengers were from 19 countries. The largest group among them — 119 people — was from the United States, she said.

Both cruise ships are operated by a company called Norwegian Coastal Voyage.

Kristiansen said the passengers would be transferred to the other ship in small boats normally used for excursions. Kristiansen said she did not know how long it would take because they were waiting for strong winds to ease up late in the day.

"For the passengers' comfort, we will wait," Kristiansen said. She said all the passengers had signed up for an expedition, rather than a standard cruise, and frequently used to boats for landings and foot treks. She said she was sure all were fit enough to make the transfer to Nordnorge without difficulty.

The 123-meter (404-foot) Nordkapp, built in 1996, and the identical Nordnorge, built in 1997, normally serve the Norwegian coast. However, during the southern hemisphere summer they cruise the Antarctic.

The company said the Nordkapp managed to get off the rocks without any assistance.

Norwegian passenger Terje Johansen told The Associated Press from the Nordkapp that the passengers were taking the situation in stride.

"We are having a fine time. In fact, it is very nice," he said.

He said passengers were nervous when the ship first ran aground, but quickly understood that there was no danger.

"There are some small waves, so they are waiting with the transfer. Right now, I'm in my cabin trying to get a little sleep," he said, using the ship's telephone.

Kristiansen, of the cruise line, said they would not put through calls to the ship's crew until the passengers were evacuated, because they needed to concentrate on that task. The ship's switchboard refused to put through calls to the crew, and referred all inquiries to the cruise line headquarters in Oslo.

The cruise company statement said a British warship was also meeting the Nordkapp, and would send down divers to inspect the damage and then escort the ship to port in Argentina.

Kristiansen said the Nordkapp was not taking in water, but that the passengers were being taken off as a precaution.

As soon as the tourists are aboard the Nordnorge, it will depart for Ushuaia, Argentina, a roughly 40-hour trip.