A luxury cruise ship carrying more than 200 people will be stranded for days in a remote area of the Greenland Arctic after becoming stuck in the muddy seabed.
Three attempts in as many days to free the Ocean Explorer have failed, the Danish military’s Joint Arctic Command said, after a fishing boat had to give up trying to pull the large ship out at high tide on Wednesday. According to the authority, the passengers are not in danger.
The ship, carrying passengers mainly from Australia, got stuck in the Alpefjord, about 1,400 kilometers northeast of the Greenland capital Nuuk, around noon on Monday. The nearest Navy ship available to assist with rescue efforts has had to reduce its speed due to bad weather and is expected to arrive on scene Friday evening later than originally expected.
Troops from Denmark’s elite Arctic Special Forces unit Sirius, which patrols the vast area on dogsleds, visited the ship by boat and confirmed that all passengers are safe. In neighboring Iceland, the coast guard is ready with a ship if necessary, according to local authorities.
The ship’s plight underlines the dangers of tourism in the Arctic, where distances are vast and often days away. Still, the majestic landscape of icebergs and the chance to see rare creatures, such as polar bears, are attracting more and more tourists.
The ship has tried at least twice to surface under its own power at high tide, but the mud – a mix of sediment, sand and silt left behind by a nearby glacier – creates a strong suction that holds the ship in place.
The Joint Arctic Command also ordered another cruise ship near the Ocean Explorer to remain in the area in case the situation escalates. A Danish navy ship that was already at sea off the coast of southwest Greenland was diverted and was initially expected to reach the area on Friday morning, but has now been delayed by several hours.
“The crew and passengers are in a difficult situation, but given the circumstances the atmosphere on the ship is good and everyone on board is doing well,” the Joint Arctic Command said in its statement, citing reports from the Sirius troops. The patrol will remain on land in the area so that they can reach the ship within 90 minutes.
A few people on board the ship have tested positive for Covid-19 and have been isolated, the Sydney Morning Herald reported, citing passengers on the ship. No one is in serious condition, the people told the newspaper. The Joint Arctic Command did not comment on the report.
The passengers and crew on board No. 206, according to the command and local media in Greenland, said about 170 are paying passengers, while the rest make up the crew.
The ship is stuck off the coast of Greenland’s national park, the world’s largest, covering an area of 972,000 square kilometers (375,000 square miles). It is a protected area with animals including polar bears, musk oxen and walruses. There are no human inhabitants except the workers at weather stations and the small unit of the Danish Arctic Special Forces.
Greenland has extensive home rule, but is part of the Kingdom of Denmark.
“All passengers, expedition team and crew on board are safe and well,” Aurora Expeditions, the ship’s Sydney-based operator, said in a statement. “It is important that there is no immediate danger to themselves, the ship or the environment.”
Aurora Expeditions specializes in polar trips, including a 30-day cruise that costs more than $33,000 (A$51,000) per person for viewing wildlife such as polar bears, beluga whales and walruses, according to its website.
Greenland, like many other Arctic countries, is increasingly concerned about the logistics of mounting expensive rescue operations in remote areas.
The number of cruise ships around the world’s largest island has increased 50% in the past year to 600, Brian Jensen of the Joint Arctic Command said by phone. Last year, the Joint Arctic Command conducted one medical evacuation and five so far this year, he said.