By Peter Lynch, on board Viking Polaris in Antarctica 

Captain Margrith Ettlin is moving swiftly between the wings of her bridge on the Viking Polaris as she manoeuvres the ship between some serious icebergs off the continent of Antarctica.

As one of the crew puts it later: the ship was like a ballerina dancing between the ice.

The vessel is held in position by GPS, and the thrusters in the bow and stern are working overtime.

She has the very latest tech. But you still need the skill and experience of your captain and crew to keep the vessel safe.

Below decks, the fleet of military Zodiacs are busily ferrying some 300 passengers on shore for a photo on the seventh continent at Base Brown. A storm is moving in, and we don’t have a lot of time.

Everyone who wanted to got ashore, where expedition staff were ready to shoot that trophy picture. The success of the venture earned the captain, a veteran of many such trips, and her expedition leader a round of enthusiastic applause at the 5pm briefing for guests.

You can see the landing here

Their success was the result of meticulous planning and the combined skills of everyone on board. And probably a dash of high tech wizardry.It is why accidents in this amazing place are quite rare.

Viking, like many of the lines that sail to this sometimes-inhospitable place, puts safety above all else.

Cruising in the Antarctic is a collision course with nature in extreme conditions. “This isn’t Disneyland,” as someone said as we sailed out of Base Brown with our trophy pictures.

Indeed, it’s not. The continent is 1.5 times the size of the US, mostly ice sometimes a mile deep. The weather can chance in a heartbeat, so playing cat and mouse with conditions is what sailing here is all about.

The captains have their own What’s App group and chat every day about where the ice is blocking channels and where it is safe to take  their precious cargo of guests.

For those who haven’t sailed on the world’s growing expedition fleet, the news this week that two passengers died during a shore excursion on Quark Expeditions near Cape Lookout, Elephant Island, will have come as a shock.

And indeed it was to the tight-knit expedition team aboard Viking Polaris, who immediately sent condolences to colleagues on Quark’s World Explorer.

But they continued their work, knowing they were deploying the best skills and using the best safety procedures. Quark also has a reputation for using the highest standards of safety and the most skilled personnel.

The fact that such incidents are unusual is a glowing testimony to the way in which expedition staff balance the needs of giving guests the experience they wished for with the demands of a safety-first policy.

As one seasoned expedition staffer put it: “There are millions of dollars worth of bucket list dreams riding in every ship in the Antarctic. We try and fulfil all those wishes as best we can against a backcloth of one of the world’s most challenging environments.

“Safety always comes first.”

Expedition cruising is real life made as safe as is humanly possible. That’s why it has so many fans, all of whom would have felt nothing but sympathy for those on board World Explorer. But it won’t stop their own explorations, and it won’t slow the increasing numbers who want to experience the amazing beauty and majesty of this extraordinary place.