Luxury Cruise Ship Gets Unstuck After Four Days in Greenland’s Arctic

The luxury cruise ship that ran aground in a remote Arctic area of Greenland and had been stuck there since Monday is once again afloat.

(Bloomberg) — The luxury cruise ship that ran aground in a remote Arctic area of Greenland and had been stuck there since Monday is once again afloat. 

The Ocean Explorer was dragged free by a fishing research vessel owned by Greenland’s government, Denmark’s military’s Joint Arctic Command said in a brief Facebook statement on Thursday. 

“The ship came afloat again and they are now checking the hull for any damage and stability, and then awaiting further directives from the relevant authorities,” Frigg Jorgensen, an executive director at the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators, said in an interview from Reykjavik.

“No damage has been reported and no pollution has been reported so far,” she said.

The Ocean Explorer became stuck around midday on Monday, and three attempts in as many days to free the vessel had failed. The ship has about 200 people on board, including passengers primarily from Australia. It was wedged on the muddy seabed in the Alpefjord, roughly 870 miles (1,400 kilometers) northeast of Greenland’s capital, Nuuk. 

The vessel’s plight underscored the hazards of tourism in Arctic areas, where distances are vast and help often days away. Still, the majestic scenery of icebergs and the chance to spot rare creatures, such as polar bears, has attracted a growing numbers of tourists. 

Many of the vessels designed for such cruises feature “new technology and equipment to enhance safety and be prepared,” Jorgensen said, adding that more vessels don’t necessarily equate to higher risk.  

Ships operated by AECO members are required to not carry heavy fuel oil as a way of minimizing any potential environmental impact from an incident, she said. 

Greenland’s police have opened a probe into how the vessel got stuck, and an officer boarded the ship to interview the crew on the sequence of events and whether any offenses occurred. No one has been charged or arrested, the police said.

The Ocean Explorer had been trying to use high tide to float clear on its own, but the mud — a mix of sediment, sand and silt left by a nearby glacier — created a strong suction that held it in place. In online debate forums, Greenlanders were quick to point out that the fjord’s green water was a danger sign of glacier mud that a local seaman would have known to avoid.

Troops from Denmark’s Arctic Special Forces elite unit Sirius, which patrols the vast area with dog sleds, have also visited the ship by boat. The patrol confirmed all passengers are safe.  

The ship was stuck offshore Greenland’s national park, the world’s largest, covering 972,000 square kilometers (375,000 square miles). It’s a protected area with animals including musk oxen and walrus. There are no human inhabitants except for workers at weather stations and the small unit of Denmark’s forces. 

Greenland has extensive home rule but is part of the Kingdom of Denmark.

Aurora Expeditions, the ship’s Sydney-based operator, specializes in polar trips. One of its offerings is a 30-day cruise costing more than $33,000 (A$51,000) per person, according to the its website.

Passengers, expedition team and crew are “safe and well,” the company has said. At least three people on the ship have tested positive for Covid-19 and have isolated, with no one in a serious condition, the Associated Press reported earlier, citing Aurora. 

The Ocean Explorer, designed by Norway’s Ulstein Design & Solutions AS and delivered in July 2021, is specifically built for adventure trips. It boasts an infinity pool, an atrium forward consisting of a two-level lounge with a piano bar and panoramic bow windows.  

The ship set sail from Norway’s Kirkenes on Sept. 2, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

(Updates to add background from fifth paragraph.)

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