Stranded cruise ship pulled free at high tide in Greenland

The 104.4-meter (343-foot) long and 18-meter (60 foot) wide Ocean Explorer ran aground on Monday in Alpefjord in the Northeast Greenland National Park. (SIRIUS/Joint Arctic Command via AP)

The luxury cruise ship MV Ocean Explorer was “successfully” pulled free in Greenland on Thursday, three days after running aground with 206 people on board, authorities and the ship’s owner said.

The ship was freed by a fisheries research vessel at high tide, said the cruise ship’s owner, Copenhagen-based SunStone Ships and the Arctic Command, which had been coordinating the operation. It was done “based on a pull from the vessel (owned by the Greenland government) and vessel’s own power. There have not been any injuries to anybody onboard, no pollution of the environment and no breach of the hull.” The name of the Greenland ship was Tarajoq and it belongs to the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, a government agency.

The ship’s owner added that “the vessel and its passengers will now be positioned to a port where the vessel’s bottom damages can be assessed, and the passengers will be taken to a port from which they can be flown back home.” There was no immediate comment from the tour company that organized the trip, Australia-based Aurora Expeditions.

The cruise ship ran aground above the Arctic Circle on Monday in Alpefjord, which is in the Northeast Greenland National Park, the world’s northernmost national park. The park is nearly the size of France and Spain  combined, and approximately 80% is permanently covered by an ice sheet. Alpefjord sits about 240 kilometers (149 miles) away from the closest settlement, Ittoqqortoormiit, which itself is nearly 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) from the country’s capital, Nuuk.

A view of the Ocean Explorer, a Bahamas-flagged Norwegian cruise ship with 206 passengers and crew, which has run aground in northwestern Greenland, on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023. (SIRIUS/Joint Arctic Command via AP)

The Bahamas-flagged cruise ship has passengers from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States.

It has an inverted bow, shaped like the one on a submarine, 77 cabins, 151 passenger beds and 99 beds for crew, and several restaurants.

The owner also had “arranged additional tug assistance in case it was needed, however, this has now been canceled.” Earlier Thursday, Australia-based Aurora Expeditions which has chartered the ship, said that three passengers had COVID-19. “These passengers are currently in isolation. They are looked after by our onboard doctor, medical team and crew, and they are doing well,” Aurora Expeditions said in a statement. The others on
the MV Ocean Explorer were “safe and healthy,” it added.

Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald quoted a retiree from Australia, Steven Fraser, who is on the ship, saying: “Everyone’s in good spirits. It’s a little bit frustrating, but we are in a beautiful part of the world.” Fraser told the newspaper that he himself had come down with COVID-19 on the ship.

Dozens of ships every year

Dozens of cruise ships sail along Greenland’s coast every year so passengers can admire the picturesque mountainous landscape, sometimes barren, with fjords, and the waterways packed with icebergs of different sizes  and glaciers jutting out into the sea.

Danish broadcaster DR said that there were 400 cruises in Greenland in 2022, and 600 cruises in 2023. Denmark’s Danish Maritime Authority have asked police in Greenland to investigate why the ship ran aground and whether any laws had been violated, a police statement said, adding that no one has been charged or arrested. An officer had been on board the ship to carry out “initial investigative steps, which, among other things, involve questioning the crew and other relevant persons on board,” it added.

The cruise liner began its latest trip on Sept. 2 in Kirkenes, in Arctic Norway, and was due to return to Bergen, Norway, on Sept. 22, according to SunStone Ships.

The primary mission of the Joint Arctic Command is to ensure Danish sovereignty by monitoring the area around the Faeroe Islands and Greenland, including the Arctic Ocean in the north. Greenland is a semi-independent territory that is part of the Danish realm, as are the Faeroe Islands.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Cambridge Bay welcomes an upswing of cruise ship tourists after 2 years of quiet, CBC

Norway: Svalbard cruise season in full swing, but unlikely to hit pre-pandemic record, The Independant Barents Observer

Russia: Most expedition cruise liners exclude Russian Arctic, The Independant Barents Observer

United States: First U.S. deep water port for the Arctic to host cruise ships, military, The Associated Press

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