The Sad End of the M/V Polar Star

M/V Polar Star, Grytviken, South Georgia Island

M/V Polar Star, Grytviken, South Georgia Island

In November-December 2010, it was WC’s great pleasure to ride as a passenger on the M/V Polar Star, from Ushaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina to the Falkand Islands; then to South Georgia Island; then to the Antarctic Peninsula and finally back to Ushaia. A wonderful trip on a wonderful ship.

In February 2011, she backed onto an uncharted rock in Mathu Strait, off the Antarctic Peninsula (we didn’t get that far south). She’s a double-walled hull, and the rock only penetrated the first wall, so there was never serious danger to the passengers. But the puncture ended that cruise and her season. She went to a shipyard in Las Palmas, Spain for repairs.

Total repair costs were $1.4 million. There was insurance. But the lead lender for the ship, Toronto Dominion Bank, exercised its rights to take the insurance proceeds, leaving the repair bill unpaid. To make a long, messy story short, the Polar Star’s owner, Karlsen Shipping, is now in receivership, the Polar Star is being held by the shipyard (“arrested,” to use the admiralty law term) and all future trips by the Polar Star are cancelled.

Toronto Dominion Bank has a reputation for being very quick to pull the pin and for being pretty rude about it; this reinforces that reputation.

WC’s buddy and sometime expedition team member Hugh Rose gave me the news to WC at the Te Vaka concert Friday night. WC would be lying to you if he didn’t admit it colored the otherwise excellent concert a bit.

It’s surprisingly hard to get details on the web. Some here:

The crew was stranded in Spain, unpaid, for some weeks. There’s a blog from Captain Jacek Lisiecki here

The news links, however, have mostly expired.

It’s interesting that the receiver, Price Waterhouse, made no obvious attempt to operate the Polar Star for the reservations for the 2011 or 2012 seasons. WC knows Ted Cheeseman (Cheeseman’s Ecology Safaris) tried to get the ship to make the Fall 2011-Winter 2012 runs; he had no luck persuading Price Waterhouse to operate her. He wound up switching his cruises to the Russian ship Ioffe, which WC saw of South Georgia. She has a weird, side-ways superstructure.

The Polar Star remains in dry dock in Las Palmas. At this point, it appears she will be auctioned off to satisfy the repair lien, the ship mortgages and the crew’s unpaid wages.

A sad end to a pretty good ship. WC suspects she’ll require refitting and repairs, and possibly new engines, before she will carry passengers again. She’s specialized for expedition cruises in polar waters. It’s a limited market. A casualty of an unreasonably nervous bank and tight cash flow, she was and remains a fine ship. Again, a sad end.

Update: Looking even grimmer.