Two vessels struck icebergs and sank over the weekend. In icy waters off Antarctica, 154 passengers escaped safely as the M.S. Explorer slipped beneath the waves.

The ship’s company of the H.M.A.S Liberal, which was rammed — much to its crew’s surprised alarm — by several icebergs in Australian waters, were not so fortunate. After watching in dismay as their once-impregnable vessel staggered clumsily through a quickly choking floe, party members gathered shivering on the boat deck and gasped in disbelief as both captains deserted the listing Liberal even before it had started to sink.

First to depart, in step with the vessel’s fleeing rodents, was Captain John Winston Howard. He accepted blame for the catastrophe while shinning down a rope into the encompassing cruel sea. Then came the biggest blow: First Lieutenant Peter Costello, who, despite the imploring stares and cries of his benighted crew, grabbed a megaphone and fled the bridge, informing the distraught survivors that he was deserting the Liberal “to spend more time with my family”.

The subsequent wreck at the cost of many hands is a bitter blow to the state of Australian parliamentary democracy. Not that Lieutenant Costello — the officer once tipped to guide the Liberal on her next exploratory voyages — seemed to care. He’s off smartly in the ship’s boat to start a new career as a privateer in search of loot and treasure.

Never mind the good ship Liberal or those poor souls slipping closer ever to closer to the icy black waves on board.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey