MS World Discoverer Shipwreck: The Cruise Ship Taken Out by Coral Reef at Roderick Bay

Clare Fitzgerald
Photo Credit: Philjones828 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
Photo Credit: Philjones828 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

In the remote Roderick Bay in the Solomon Islands sits the half-submerged wreck of the MS World Discoverer. Once a top-of-the-line cruise ship that traversed the Antarctic, South Pacific Islands and the Alaskan coast, she fell victim to an unchartered coral reef, resulting in the vessel wrecking while her crew and passengers were still onboard.

Construction of the MS World Discoverer

MS World Discoverer docked in Salaverry, Peru
MS World Discoverer docked in Salaverry, Peru, 1993. (Photo Credit: Aah-Yeah / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)

The MS World Discoverer was launched in December 1973, with construction finishing the following year in Bremerhaven, Germany. Designed with seven decks, the cruise ship featured a fitness center, an observation lounge, a lecture hall, a medical center with a physician, a sun deck with a swimming pool and a library.

With the ability to travel 13,000 km at a top speed of 16.5 knots (19 MPH), the MS World Discoverer featured a double hull construction that made her the ideal vessel for voyages to the Antarctic. Each year, the ship’s 137 passengers observed the region’s ice floes and boarded inflatable dinghies, which allowed them to land ashore and take stock of the local wildlife.

Sailing the ocean for 25 years

MS World Discoverer sailing by a colony of Adélie penguins
MS World Discoverer sailing by an Adélie penguin colony in Antartica, 1981. (Photo Credit: Wolfgang Kaehler / LightRocket / Getty Images)

In 1974, the vessel was sold to Denmark’s BEWA Cruises as the DEWA Discoverer. She operated under the company for two years, after which she was sold to Adventure Cruises Inc. and renamed the World Discoverer. It was around this time that she was registered in Singapore and became a long-term charter ship to Society Expeditions.

In 1990, the ship was registered in Liberia, and six years later underwent a complete refurbishment.

The MS World Discoverer operated on a cyclical schedule. From November to February each year, she conducted cruises of the Southern Hemisphere, visiting the Falkland Islands, Argentina, Antarctica and Chile. From March to May and August to October, she traveled around the South Pacific Islands, while June to August was spent in Alaska and the Russian border, in the Bering Sea.

The MS World Discoverer becomes wrecked in the Solomon Islands

MS World Discoverer docked in Ua Pou, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia
MS World Discoverer docked in Ua Pou, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia, 2000. (Photo Credit: Makemake / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

At around 4:00 PM on April 30, 2000, the MS World Discoverer was traveling through the Sandfly Passage in the Solomon Islands when she struck an uncharted coral reef. The ship suffered damage in the crash, prompting her captain to radio a distress signal to the capital city of Honiara.

A passenger ferry was dispatched to the scene and rescued everyone onboard. Her captain then brought her into Roderick Bay, where she was grounded to avoid completely sinking beneath the water. A salvage attempt was made, but given that a civil war was happening at the time, the vessel was declared a “constructive total loss.”

An unexpected tourist attraction

MS World Discoverer partially wrecked in Roderick Bay, Solomon Islands
Wreck of the MS World Discoverer in Roderick Bay, Solomon Islands, 2007. (Photo Credit: Philjones828 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Over the years, the MS World Discoverer has been ransacked by locals. She’s also suffered water and rust damage from the area’s tidal activity, leading to the loss of many of her windows.

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The ship has since become a popular tourist attraction for both locals and those who visit the Solomon Islands. Passengers aboard other cruise lines have also made a point of stopping at the wreck. While the majority opt to view the ship from a distance, some take advantage of companies offering unauthorized tours of the interior, getting an all-encompassing view of what was once a pristine passenger vessel.