Almost all 154 people escape from Antarctic ship

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LONDON, Nov 23 (Reuters) Almost all the 154 passengers and crew from a cruiseliner sinking in the Antarctic Ocean have escaped onto life rafts, a British coastguard spokesman said today.

Andy Catrell, a British Cornwall coastguards spokesman, said all but two of the people on board had escaped from the ship, which appeared to have struck an object.

''This morning the Argentine and American coastguards are coordinating the rescue of 154 passengers from the Explorer, which is holed and taking water down in the Antarctic near the south Shetland Islands,'' he told Britain's BBC television.

''We don't know what the vessel struck, but it's got a 25 degree list. We've heard that all passengers and crew apart from the master and chief officer have now abandoned the vessel and are in lifeboats.'' Another vessel, the Antarctic Dream, was in the area, about one and a half hours away, he said.

British coastguards were helping by providing information about the vessel.

The ship, built in 1969 and refitted in 1993, was carrying 100 passengers and 54 crew on a cruise that was due to end by November 26.

The Explorer usually makes two-week cruises around the Antarctic, costing around 4,000 pounds (8,000 dollar) per cabin.

The South Shetland Islands lie about 120 km north of the Antarctic Peninsula. They have been part of the British Antarctic Territory since 1962, although they are also claimed by Argentina and Chile.

Reuters RC GC1634

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