A Berserk expedition gone wrong

an expedition gone berserk

[2012 updates]

[2014 updates]

The 47-foot Norwegian flagged steel-hulled yacht Berserk II (above, file photo from the former expedition website), ventured south from Canada (where some of its crew had some legal difficulty in 2009) and headed for Antarctica in February 2011, dropping off two Norwegians--the captain, 33-year-old Jarle Andh°y and crew member Samuel Massie Ulvolden (18) on 13 February at the Bay of Whales on the Ross Ice Shelf. The two were equipped with belt-driven quads (ATV's) and supplies for a return trip to Pole. Their intention was to be the first expedition to commemorate Roald Amundsen's successful trip 100 years ago.

After dropping off the polar party, Berserk anchored in Horseshoe Bay (just north of Cape Royds on Ross Island), but the vessel left the anchorage just before the disappearance. On 22 February, a distress beacon from the vessel was detected 21 miles north of Scott Base...at the time that area was experiencing hurricane-force winds, 25-foot seas, and 12░F temperatures.

Three ships took part in search operations--the Russian tourist vessel Spirit of Enderby, the NZ naval vessel HMNZS Wellington, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's Steve Irwin. The Steve Irwin recovered two empty life rafts--the first was one of three lost by the Wellington during the damaging bad weather, the second was from the Berserk--its line had been broken, not cut off, an indication it had not been used.

The Steve Irvin continued the search until it was called off Monday 28 February. It was using its helicopter (which has been refueled at McMurdo) but hopes for finding anything were unlikely. Here's the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society blog describing the search efforts, as well as an editorial by Steve Irvin captain Paul Watson.

The Berserk expedition website (before it disappeared) included a single framed "Berserk to the South Pole" blog entry in English which describes their legal issues with the Canadian government after their 2009 Northwest Passage venture...it concludes with their recruitment of South African surfer Leonard Banks, 32, one of three presumed lost. The other two missing crewmen are Norwegians Robert Skaanes (34) and Tom Gisle Bellika (36). The Antarctic Treaty environmental protocol requires that all Antarctic ventures register and comply with their country's Antarctic government organization, but this expedition had not registered with the Norwegian Polar Institute or provided the required search-and-rescue insurance.

The two Pole expeditioners were back in McMurdo on 27 February 2011...and they were flown north to NZ on the penultimate USAP C-17 flight the next day (Norway Post article). While in New Zealand they stated that they'd reached within 200 miles of the Pole, according to Voice of America, although this has not otherwise been confirmed. Weather at Pole was rather raunchy at the time...-59░F with 11 MPH winds... The two survivors would face serious questioning upon their return to Norway.

Here's a 27 February stuff.co.nz article describing the expedition's beginning in Auckland and the end of the search, and a 28 February article where the survivors defended their venture and confirming that the Pole expeditioners were being flown to NZ. On 28 February (US time) NSF issued this press release addressing the search efforts and the evacuation of the Pole expeditioners to NZ. In this 28 February Norway Post article, the expedition leader/skipper Jarle Andh°y admitted they had not applied for the proper permits. "I regard the area as no-man's land. In that case, no permits are needed," he said.

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), whose membership includes many charter yacht owners, issued a press statement on 3 March; this stated that the Berserk operators had not secured the necessary authorization or permits, and that "...the Norwegian Polar Institute, as the competent authority, has decided to formally report the leader of the Berserk expedition to Norwegian prosecuting authorities for violations of Antarctic regulations..." Meanwhile, in an 11 March interview with Sailing World,, Jarle Andh°y refuted most of the criticism of the expedition by other experienced Antarctic sailors. Stay tuned...

July 2011 update...at the Antarctic Treaty meeting in June in Buenos Aires, two reports were issued about this expedition. The first (these are MS Word documents) is an information paper issued jointly by Norway, New Zealand, and the United States; among other things, this paper documents a detailed timeline of the expedition--namely, they set up camp with two ATVs in front of Scott Base on 14 February (and spilled a bit of fuel near the Scott Base R/O plant!), and headed for Pole the next day via the South Pole Traverse route. They were 150 miles from Scott Base when the Berserk was reported missing; they then returned to McMurdo/Scott Base on the 27th and were flown to Christchurch on the last USAP C-17 flight of the season, leaving their ATVs and other gear behind. Also of note in this paper...an allegation that TAC (The Antarctic Company) had flown fuel to Pole for the expedition to use on the return trip.

The second document is a legal report submitted by Norway...which further outlines aspects of the expedition in a legal context. Perhaps the most interesting statement in the document is that the expedition leader has recently formally notified Norwegian authorities that a new expedition is in the offing...which may include "...sailing to the Ross Sea, ceremony in Ross Sea, search in Ross Sea, traverse (ATV) to South Pole, potential overwintering, sailing to Antarctic Peninsula." As I said, stay tuned...

November 2011 update...early in November, captain Jarle Andh°y was fined NOK 25,000 ($4500) for not notifying the Norwegian Polar Institute, not filing an environmental assessment, and lacking search-and-rescue insurance. Andh°y accepted the fine without comment, although it was announced on 9 November that he would participate with NRK television and produce a documentary about the venture (Vestbold Blad/Norwegian language page, use Google Translate or your favorite translator).

2012 updates...shortly after a documentary by Jarle Andh°y about the disaster was aired on Norwegian television (despite efforts from the families of the dead to block the telecast)...Jarle (age 35), and Samuel Massie (age 19) (the team that had attempted the Pole trip) were identified in Auckland. Apparently they acquired a 54-foot yacht, the Nilaya, and set sail for the Ross Sea...flaunting the fact that Jarle hadn't declared that he'd been previously deported from Canada...and also flaunting requirements that they declare their departure from NZ waters...not to mention the fact that a voyage to the Antarctic required environmental approval from the Norwegian government.

First, here's the 25 January 2012 stuff.co.nz article about the NZ search for the rogue yacht. I also had access to a blog (now disappeared) created by Charlene Banks--twin sister of one of the crew members lost on the Berserk. She also sent me this link to this 12 January Dagbladet.no article (in Norwegian, again, use Google Translate or your favorite translator) which addresses the accident investigation and the broadcast of the television series. On 26 January Charlene was interviewed by Radio New Zealand about the "absolutely diabolical" turn of events, and in another 26 January stuff.co.nz article, Andh°y confirmed that the Nilaya was heading to Antarctica--to search for answers to the Berserk disappearance mystery, and to head for Pole using the same quad bikes that he left behind last year. In addition to Andh°y and Massie, there were several others aboard including a video cameraman. And Scott Base operations manager Iain Miller (in ChCh) confirmed that the quad bikes and other equipment was stored at Scott Base, and that Andh°y could not be prevented from using it (26 January msn.co.nz article). The voyage to the ice edge was to take about 12 days.

Berserk IV?


On 27 January 2012 (SP/NZ time), a 3news.co.nz article indicated that Andh°y and crew were testing the yacht Nilaya, which is now Russian-registered and may have been renamed Berserk. According to this article, Andh°y's lawyer stated in an Oslo press conference that a South Pole trip was not in the plans...rather they wanted to search for their old vessel and the equipment that had been offloaded at Horseshoe Bay by the crew. On the 26th, the yacht was spotted by a New Zealand Customs aircraft in international waters (left, photo from the New Zealand Customs Service (full image)) and was hailed, without response (NZ Customs news release) and (NZ Herald article).

This Aftenposten article (Oslo newspaper, in Norwegian) describes the 26 January (Oslo time) press conference, but does not mention the South Pole objective of the venture. 28 January...here's a good article from TheSailNews with more information...Andh°y's vessel has no EPIRB (distress beacon) on board, but they do have a satphone. He said he expected to be in the Ross Sea for about a month. From stuff.co.nz there is a 28 January report indicating that in addition to Andh°y, Massie, and their 2 crew members, a fifth person, a New Zealander working aboard, a Maori who'd been repairing an anchor, supposedly didn't get off before they made a hurried departure from Auckland after NZ Customs had visited and told Andh°y he was to be deported. In other reports, it's been said that Andh°y plans to recover his quad bikes and equipment from Scott Base and bring them back north. What equipment...well, it seems that there were also kayaks and other gear left at Horseshoe Bay...where they apparently had plans to winter last year. Full details and links in this 27 January (Oslo time) NRK story (in Norwegian)...including a link to this look at some of the gear that the Kiwis went and collected.

1 February...over the previous weekend Andh°y spoke to Norwegian media, saying things were going well on board. Also...it was reported that he was not skippering the yacht, rather the skipper was an experienced Russian (31 January stuff.co.nz article). The article also reported that Andh°y had a significant Facebook following in Norway. The US National Ice Center shows his route blocked by extensive ice surrounding the Ross Sea. Meanwhile, msn.nz reported that the former owner of the Nilaya never knew who bought the boat in December.

9 February...we have another strange story. According to this 7 February TVNZ article some folks in Norway think that Jarle is a "sex god." No, I didn't find those pictures, but it seems that the Kiwi on the trip south didn't end up aboard the Nilaya accidentally...the 150kg heavily tattooed Maori, who worked on the Berserk last year, actually was invited on board by Andh°y (12 February stuff.co.nz story). On 13 February the rest of his story comes out (stuff.co.nz article), the guy is Busby Noble, a Mana Party (leftist Maori party) activist, who took a Mana flag with him. And actually planted it in the shelf ice, which they had reached on 9 February. Yes, Andh°y is now well south of 60║S...reportedly they were planning to stay about a week on the ice before returning to New Zealand.

On 13 February, Andh°y was exploring the coast of Victoria Land...from there he planned to head to Franklin Island before trying to get through the ice to McMurdo Sound...looking for equipment left behind by Berserk. This 15 February stuff.co.nz article has links to other coverage including a story from the Dagbladet (in Norwegian). Victorian Land is about 375 miles north of McMurdo. On 21 February 3 News NZ reported that the mast of Nilaya had been sighted from Scott Base....Andh°y reported sighting oil drums near where the Berserk had been moored. Meanwhile, some of the depot supplies that had been stored at Scott Base have now been shipped to Christchurch (21 February stuff.co.nz article). Scott Base personnel had been ordered not to give assistance to Andh°y (but they could assist the Kiwi "stowaway" Busby Noble if he asks for help (22 February TVNZ article). By the end of the week, Andh°y had searched several areas in McMurdo sound without finding traces of the Berserk, and he reported that he had a couple more places to look before returning north. The ice conditions in his search area had improved dramatically (22 February NASA MODIS satellite image of Ross Island).

The end of the story? Well, no, but on 25 February NZ time Jarle Andh°y told his lawyer in Norway that their Antarctic quest was at an end. He also reported that their next stop would be South America. See this 24 February Dagbladet.no article (in Norwegian) and also this 27 February New Zealand Herald article. Stay tuned.

Yes...on 14 March, Andh°y's support contact Rune Olsgaard in Oslo alerted the media that Andh°y was heading back to the Antarctic (!). Not a lot of information, but his boat was damaged, and he was heading an Argentine base on the Peninsula for emergency repairs and refueling. Not sure which base, Argentina has 13 of them. Here's the stuff.co.nz article, and a 13 March article from vg.no (in Norwegian).

2 April 2012, Jarle was back in the news. He and his boat were intercepted in Chilean waters while en route to Argentina...they were escorted to Puerto Williams, Chile (a town on Tierra del Fuego across the Straits of Magellan from Ushuaia, Argentina, where they were headed) and their sailing permit was suspended. Coverage: a (New Zealand Herald article) and Newstalk ZB. It was uncertain why the boat had been intercepted...some sources including dagbladet.no (Norwegian language page) say the vessel and crew were "arrested." According to this 4 April tvnz.co.nz report, the vessel will stay at Puerto Williams until Busby Noble, the NZ "stowaway?" who boarded the Nilaya in Auckland, obtains a temporary passport.

10 April, the New Zealand Herald reports that the vessel (reportedly renamed Berserk), was released by the Chilean authorities. Their plans were to cross the Straits of Magellan to Ushuaia, Argentina, for repairs, according to this Norwegian language article in dabladet.no. They hoped to be back in Norway by the end of April or early May. This earlier VG Nett article (also in Norwegian) includes a photo of the boat and crew in Puerto Williams shortly before their release.

After making repairs in Ushuaia, they then to Buenos Aires. Andh°y flew back to Norway on 9 May. His fine of NOK 25,000 is still under review. And Andh°y said that he was still waiting for additional information from the New Zealand authorities about the search for the Berserk and its equipment 9 May VG Nett article).

2014 updates...Andh°y was out of the Antarctic news for awhile...in August 2012 he announced a planned voyage to continue Thor Heyerdahl's legacy, using a replica raft made for the 2012 movie Kon Tiki, together with Thor's son Bj°rn and Busby Noble (the Maori activist who'd accompanied Andh°y on the Nilaya voyage into Antarctic waters. It was scheduled to start in Larvik, Norway in September, but it apparently never happened.

In July 2014 it was announced that Andh°y was refusing to pay the (updated) 45,000 NOK ($7,250) fine imposed on him by Norway for violating environmental provisions of the Antarctic Treaty during the 2012 venture (stuff.co.nz article). An appeal to the judgment was being filed; if Andh°y continues to refuse paying the fine, he will be given a 50-day suspended jail sentence.

Interestingly, the "wild Viking" Andh°y had his first Antarctic venture in 1996-97, when he sailed mostly single-handed from Norway to the Antarctic Peninsula, in a vessel named Berserk, which sank shortly after he returned. And in 2002 he sailed to the Arctic...where he was fined by the governor of Svalbard for sailing without insurance and failing to submit a route plan.

Jarle Andh°y has a new updated English language website which offers a few photos, books and videos for sale (in Norwegian), and a cryptic announcement for "August 16, 2015--The Hunt for Berserk." The English version of the book Berserk: My Voyage to the Antarctic in a Twenty-Seven-Foot Sailboat, by David Mercy, who accompanied then-19-year- old Andh°y from Ushuaia to the Antarctic in 1996-97, is available from your favorite used book source. Also check out the Wikipedia page about Andh°y (which I've helped edit) for more historical info.