Yacht Berserk lost in Antarctica – safety measures questioned

Skipper Jarle Andhoy, safe and on his way back to Christchurch
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As the search for three missing crew of the yacht Berserk is abandoned serious questions are being asked about the safety measures of their expedition to Antarctica.

The three crew tragically lost to the Antarctic Ocean have been named as Norwegians Robert Skaane, 34, and Tom Gisle Bellika, 36, and sole British crew member Leonard Banks, 32. Other reports claim that Leonard (Lennie) is South African.


Berserk liferaft recovered - photo from Sea Shepherd
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The surviving two of the original five members of the crew are Norwegians Jarle Andhoy, 34, a Norwegian TV celebrity who was the skipper of the yacht, and Samuel Massie Ulvolden, 18. They had been trying to reach the South Pole overland when the Berserk was caught in a severe storm and set off its distress beacon. After abandoning their quest and driving their quad bikes for almost 24 hours non-stop they have reached New Zealand's Scott Base and caught the last flight out of Antarctica to Christchurch before the approaching winter makes escape impossible.

An extensive air and sea search found no trace of the 14-metre Berserk, which disappeared in Mc Murdo Sound, 15 nm north of Scott Base, in minus 12-degree Celsius waters on 22nd February, except for its damaged life raft which appeared to have floated free from the yacht and had not been used.

Independent observers had questioned the safety aspects of the expedition before the yacht left Auckland. One Auckland mariner, commercial skipper Kevin Peat, who saw Berserk in the Viaduct said the boat had been made unseaworthy by its heavy cargo, including the quad bikes lashed to the deck.

'They had all the stuff sitting on the dock and we thought there was no way they could get it onto the boat, but, over a two week period they slowly, but surely, lifted the gear into the boat,' Peat said.

Berserk in Antarctica
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'We thought it was a joke, no way you would go with all that gear out it onto the ocean, certainly not the Southern Ocean.'

He said that the 'gear' included 44 gallon drums of fuel lashed to the deck, along with quad bikes, and that one bike was lashed over the engine room hatch.

Berserk was structurally sound, he said, but all the weight would have compromised its righting moment, meaning the boat would be vulnerable to capsize.

He said it would have cleared Customs but as a foreign flagged vessel, it could not be prevented from sailing, even though it was unsafe.

One of the vessels to respond to the emergency beacon was New Zealand's ice-strengthened patrol vessel, HMNZS Wellington, which was in McMurdo Sound at the time.

Simon Griffith, skipper Lieutenant Commander of the Wellington, told stuff.com.nz that they had encountered the Berserk at Back Door Bay.

'The yacht seemed a very sturdy, oceangoing yacht and they were three cheerful Norwegians,' Griffith commented, and the yacht was warned severe weather was coming.

However, other indications were that Berserk had not followed protocol in their voyage to the Antarctic. They needed to get permission from the Norwegian Polar Institute to sail below 60 degrees south, and official Jan-Gunnar Winther confirmed they did not have permission.

Scott Base manager Troy Beaumont commented, 'There are a whole lot of treaties down here and they have managed to violate every one of them,' he added.

The two surviving Norwegians are expected to meet with Norwegian consular officials on their arrival into New Zealand.

The Berserk expedition was attempting to mark the centenary of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen's South Pole expedition, which reached the South Pole on 14th December, 1912.