‘No panic’ as cruise ship ran aground in northern Canada, says passenger

Holly Hogan was set to study seabirds in the Arctic when the ship she was aboard ran aground. (CBC)
Biologist Holly Hogan, from St. John’s (Canadian East Coast) was in the midst of a safety briefing when she and the other 161 people aboard the Akademik Ioffe felt their expedition come to a grinding halt.

“The ship hit a shelf, and it was a bit like running into a brick wall. It was unexpected,” she recalled of the moment the hull hit the seabed August 24 near Kugaaruk, Nunavut.

“The ship wasn’t moving super quickly or anything, but it was clear it wasn’t anticipated.”

The passengers — a mix of tourists visiting the Arctic and scientists studying it — had only began their expedition the day before; boarding the ship, settling in and casting off.

Hogan said having those mandatory safety drills fresh in their minds helped everyone aboard stay cool and collected in the moments after the hit.

“Oddly, there wasn’t a sense of panic,” as passengers donned life-jackets and gathered in the ship’s galley, Hogan told CBC Radio’s St. John’s Morning Show.

“People were kind of anxious, but nobody was really upset.”

Snow pants and life-jackets

The expedition leader briefed Hogan and the others on what had happened, although the extent of the damage was not fully realized initially.

Despite the passengers first being told the hull had not been breached, it in fact had, and water was seeping in. The general manager for One Ocean Expeditions, which runs the tour and the ship, later confirmed that water was kept contained to a few empty tanks on the ship.

The Akademic Ioffe struck ground near Kugaaruk. (Google)

But even as those aboard the Akademik Ioffe came to terms with the seriousness of the situation, Hogan said a sense of calm prevailed.

“It’s always safest to stay on the ship, so that’s what we were doing. Most people were going around in snow pants and their life-jackets,” she said.

“But there was no imminent danger, and it was obvious if we did have to leave the ship, it wasn’t going to be a mad rush.”

‘It was an adventure’

As the hours passed aboard the listing boat, the Royal Canadian Air Force kept an eye on the situation with its Hercules aircraft, and Canadian Coast Guard helicopters and an icebreaker also rushed to the scene.

The passengers were eventually transferred to the Akademik Ioffe’s sister ship, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, itself loaded down with tourists and scientists, via Zodiac.

“It was just as if we were going on an excursion. We followed all the protocols that you would use to board Zodiacs,” said Hogan.

Although their Arctic expedition had been cut short, the passengers left with a tale to tell.

“I was disappointed, everybody was,” said Hogan. “[But] it was an adventure, and actually on our trip back we saw narwhal and belugas and polar bears, so it wasn’t a dead loss.”

The ship has since been refloated, and Transportation Safety Board investigators are looking into the incident.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada ill-prepared for Arctic shipping boom, G7 sustainability summit hears, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Baltic cruise business still booming, YLE News

France: A cruise ship bound for the North Pole, The Independent Barents Observer

Iceland: Arctic tourism in the age of Instagram, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Several ships being launched to feed Arctic cruise boom, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Tourists back from North Pole delayed by Russian naval exercise near Murmansk, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Alaska’s cruise industry just keeps getting bigger, Alaska Dispatch News

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