A luxury cruise ship was finally freed on Thursday after leaving more than 200 passengers stranded in the Arctic after their ship ran aground earlier this week.
Aurora Expeditions’ 104-metre-long Ocean Explorer vessel became stuck in the remote area of Greenland on Monday (11 September) afternoon, with the earliest rescue not possible until Friday (15 September). But that rescue came a day earlier than expected.
“We are pleased to confirm that the MV Ocean Explorer has been successfully freed from its grounding in Alpefjord, Greenland, on Thursday 14 September 2023, with the help of the TARAJOQ vessel,” Aurora Expeditions wrote in a statement.
“All onboard are safe and there is no damage to the environment. We are waiting on the relevant authorities for advice regarding our next steps. We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to the management and team of the TARAJOQ vessel, for assisting us during this challenging time, and our team who have worked tirelessly to ensure the safety and comfort of our passengers,” the statement added.
“On Monday afternoon West Greenlandic time, the Arctic Command received a message that the cruise ship Ocean Explorer was grounded in the Alpefjord in Northeast Greenland, and that the ship is not immediately able to be freed by its own help,” Denmark’s Joint Arctic Command (JAC) said in a statement.
There are currently 206 passengers onboard. Aurora Expeditions offers polar cruises — tickets for which range in cost from $14,000 to $33,000, according to its website.
“The nearest help is far away,” said Brian Jensen, the head of operations for the JAC, calling the situation “worrisome”.
“Our units are far away, and the weather can be very unfavorable,” he said. “However, in this specific situation, we do not see any immediate danger to human life or the environment, which is reassuring.”
He added: “Of course, we are following the situation closely and take this incident very seriously.”
The closest ship able to perform a rescue, the inspection vessel Knud Rasmussen, is approximately 1,200 nautical miles away, and the earliest it could get to the Ocean Explorer is Friday morning, according to the JAC.
“We are actively engaged in efforts to free the MV Ocean Explorer, from its grounding,” an Aurora Expeditions spokesperson said. “Our foremost commitment is to ensure the vessel’s recovery without compromising safety.”
They confirmed all passengers are currently safe and well.
A military flight over the ship has found the hull intact, Bloomberg reported.
The JAC has asked another nearby cruise ship to stay in the vicinity in case the situation changes.
Mr Jensen ran through the rescue scenarios: “They can either try to get out on their own when the tide becomes high, they can get help from a nearby cruise ship, they can get assistance from Knud Rasmussen, or they can get help of one of our collaborators.”
However, in a subsequent statement, the JAC said: “Arctic Command has been in contact with the cruise ship Ocean Explorer, which has stated that they are still grounded in the National Park. This means that the tide, which came during the day local time, did not provide the desired help to sail on.”
The vessel’s captain reportedly waited for the high tide at midnight to help the ship float but the mixture of sediment, sand and silt left by a nearby glacier made it difficult to break.
The ship waited for the next high tide but that attempt was rendered unsuccessful on Tuesday.
The JAC added: “There is still no report that human life or the environment is in acute danger.”
Completed in 2021, the Ocean Explorer can accommodate up to 134 passengers and offers trips to “some of the most wild and remote destinations on the planet”, Aurora Expeditions says on its website.
Adding insult to injury, Covid-19 cases are now circulating among passengers. Despite the ongoing issues, some onboard are remaining optimistic.
According to a statement from Aurora Expeditions sent to The Independent, there are “three passengers with confirmed cases of COVID-19 on board. These passengers are currently in isolation. They are looked after by our onboard doctor, medical team and crew, and they are doing well. All other passengers, Expedition team and crew remain safe and healthy.”
That includes Steven Fraser, a passenger from Australia who is traveling with his wife, who has tested positive for the virus while onboard. He told the Sydney Morning Herald: “Everyone’s in good spirits. It’s a little bit frustrating, but we are in a beautiful part of the world. We’re sitting right near the glacier when we open our window.”
“We do have a couple of cases of Covid, but there’s a doctor on board ... a lot of people on board are quite elderly,” Mr Fraser added. “It’s a cruise that a lot of wealthy older people do because they can get out into these wilderness areas.”
Mr Fraser’s wife, Gina Hill, said that she and fellow passengers are being entertained by the crew’s stories of expeditions. “No one seems to be afraid, and they’re giving us updates quite regularly,” Ms Hill told The Guardian.
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