We've long been impressed by the capabilities of this ship. From the moment the details were first announced it was clear it would push the boundaries of where you could travel on an expedition cruise. After sailing on board, our excitement grew when we saw first-hand that the comfort and style that Ponant, a French flag cruise line, are known for has not been compromised by the technical challenges of building an electric LNG hybrid icebreaker. In fact, we believe this is the best vessel in the Ponant fleet and a contender for best expedition vessel in the world today.
So it was thrilling to hear that, during an inaugural season in Antarctica, Le Commandant Charcot became the first ship in the world to reach the extreme latitude of 78°44.3' South in the Bay of Whales, surpassing even our high expectations of what the vessel, whose inaugural voyage was to the North Pole, was capable of.
Captain Patrick Marchesseau, who was at the helm, remarked that the achievement was made even more notable as the Bay of Whales was the point of departure for the Amundsen expedition which became the first to reach the South Pole.
And this is not the first extraordinary feat for the ship in Antarctica. Earlier in the season Le Commandant Charcot offered to help the brand-new state- of-the-art UK polar research vessel Sir David Attenborough. The cooperation took place when it became apparent that both would meet during their respective operations. The RRS Sir David Attenborough was supporting research into the Thwaites Glacier, one of the most unstable in the region, and Le Commandant Charcot helped open a channel to an intended depot site by sailing astern with RRS Sir David Attenborough following behind to widen the path.
The cooperation illustrates the values that led Ponant to launch this ship, a commitment to supporting scientific endeavours and research into the polar regions. It's why the ship was designed with its own research capabilities and supports scientists on board. Ponant is now looking to collaborate with RRS Sir David Attenborough in the future, should their programmes allow, to offer guests the unique opportunity to see first-hand the challenges involved in polar science.
All this comes at a time when climate change is having a dramatic impact in Antarctica and the Arctic, with recent heat waves at both the North and South Poles causing great concern amongst scientists. These conditions have also led to a quite remarkable discovery when a team organised by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, using a South African icebreaker equipped with remotely operated submersibles, found The Endurance, the lost vessel of Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton which had laid undiscovered on the bottom of the Weddell Sea for 107 years. Quite unbelievably the wreck was uncovered on the 100th anniversary of Shackleton's funeral and has been brilliantly preserved. If you've not already seen the footage we urge you to watch it.
These events have been made possible because the extent of the Antarctic sea ice has been at its lowest ever recorded level this season, so Ponant's aim to help advance the understanding of the impact of climate change has never been more important.
For us, Le Commandant Charcot represents the ability to combine two seemingly incompatible ideas - tourism and environmental protection. In doing this so effectively, the ship's achievements are key to the successful future of expedition cruises and the wider cruise industry.