I can't believe my beloved Explorer has gone forever
An Ulster woman who recently sailed the seven seas on board the now sunken MS Explorer has spoken of her fond memories of the ill-fated vessel.
Margaret Clarke (60) said she was shocked at news the ship, which had taken her and her husband to some of the most remote places on earth, sank after hitting an underwater iceberg in Antarctic waters on Friday.
The Newtownabbey couple had travelled aboard the vessel not once but twice in their lifetimes and had hoped to sail with the Explorer again because they loved it so much.
However, those plans have been well and truly sunk after last week's dramatic sea rescue.
Mrs Clarke told the Belfast Telegraph she was shocked and saddened to hear the Explorer had crashed into an iceberg, forcing the 150 passengers and crew to abandon ship.
The former medical secretary and her husband Reg were travelling aboard the ship just a few weeks ago as part of a 14-day adventure to Labrador and Newfoundland.
"I could not believe it," she said.
"It was a big shock to hear it had crashed into an iceberg. I am very saddened by it. It was a lovely little ship.
"My husband and I were just on it in October. We also travelled to the Antarctic on the Explorer back in 1988.
"That is why we took this recent trip. We had such a wonderful time back then that when we heard it was the Explorer doing the trip to Labrador and Newfoundland we did not hesitate," she added.
The seasoned traveller, who likes to visit "unusual" places, said the pair did not encounter any problems while aboard the Explorer in October, saying everything ran smoothly during their trip.
Mrs Clarke also recalled that their first trip in 1988 ran just as well even saying the 20-day adventure to the planet's most southern region was one of the most wonderful experiences of her life.
The couple were lucky to secure places on the journey. A research society had chartered the vessel and were in need of some extra passengers to take with them. Back then adventure tourism was not as popular as it is today.
Mrs Clarke said the pair felt honoured that they were among some of the first tourists to enjoy the Antarctic experience.
"It really was a marvellous trip," she explained.
"The scenery was beautiful and it was so quiet and peaceful. The crew were wonderful and they had night time lectures so you could learn about the surroundings.
"It is such a shame what happened. I feel for those poor people. During our trip to Labrador everything went really well. We were hoping to take another trip on the Explorer and go up the Norwegian coast but I guess that is not possible now."