The vessel was originally named MS Lindblad Explorer (until 1985), and MS Society Explorer until 1992. Ownership of the vessel changed several times, the last owner being the Toronto-based travel company G.A.P Adventures which acquired Explorer in 2004.
Explorer was the first cruise ship used specifically to sail the icy waters of the Antarctic Ocean, and the first to sink there when she struck an unidentified submerged object (USO) on 23 November 2007, reported to be ice, which caused a 10-by-4-inch (25 by 10 cm) gash in the hull. Explorer was abandoned in the early hours of 23 November 2007 after taking on water near the South Shetland Islands in the Southern Ocean, an area which is usually stormy but was calm at the time. Explorer was confirmed by the Chilean Navy to have sunk at approximate position 62° 24′ South, 57° 16′ West, between South Shetlands and Grahams Land, in the Bransfield Strait, where the depth is roughly 600 m. The Royal Navy Antarctic Patrol Ship Endurance, at the request of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office whilst carrying out a hydrographic survey for the British Antarctic Survey, later pinpointed Explorer's final resting place as 62° 24′ 17.57″ South, 57° 11′ 46.49″ West at an approximate depth of 1,130 m, a distance of 4,373 m from its reported sinking position. This is broadly consistent with the direction of the prevailing current.
Explorer was commissioned by Lars-Eric Lindblad, the Swedish-American pioneer of exotic expedition tours, and built in 1969 at Uudenkaupungin Telakka shipyard in Uusikaupunki, Finland. The ship was built to stay afloat with two compartments filled with water. Her original Finnish-Swedish ice class was 1C, which is relatively weak. It is not known when the ice class was uprated to 1A.
The vessel was originally named Lindblad Explorer after Lars-Eric Lindblad and was the first custom built expeditionary cruise ship. On 11 February 1972 Explorer ran aground near La Plaza Point, Antarctica; her passengers, Lars-Eric Lindblad among them, were rescued by the Chilean Navy. She was towed to Buenos Aires, Argentina and then to Kristiansand, Norway, for repairs.
On 25 December 1979 Lindblad Explorer ran aground off Wiencke Island in the Antarctic. The 70 passengers and 34 of the crew were rescued by the Chilean Navy icebreaker Piloto Pardo, leaving the captain and a skeleton crew of 21 on board to await the arrival of a tug.