A luxury cruise ship carrying more than 200 people is set to be stranded for days in a remote area of Greenland’s Arctic after getting wedged in the muddy seabed.
Three attempts in as many days to free the Ocean Explorer have failed, Denmark’s military’s Joint Arctic Command said, after a fishing boat had to give up pulling the large vessel out at high tide on Wednesday. The passengers are not in danger, according to the authority.
The ship, with passengers primarily from Australia, became stuck at about noon on Monday in the Alpefjord, roughly 870 miles (1,400 kilometers) northeast of Greenland’s capital, Nuuk. The closest navy vessel available to help with rescue efforts has had to reduce its speed due to bad weather and is expected to reach the scene Friday evening, later than originally expected.
Troops from Denmark’s Arctic Special Forces elite unit Sirius, which patrols the vast area by dog sleds, have visited the ship by boat and confirmed that all passengers are safe. In neighboring Iceland, the coast guard is on standby with a vessel if needed, local authorities said.
The vessel’s plight underscores 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, attract growing numbers of tourists.
The ship had at least twice tried 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 – is creating a strong suction that’s holding it in place.
The Joint Arctic Command has also told another cruise ship in the vicinity of the Ocean Explorer to stay in the area in case the situation escalates. A Danish naval ship already at sea off the coast of southwest Greenland was diverted and was initially expected to reach the area by Friday morning, but that 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 stay on land in the area so they can reach the ship within 90 minutes.
A couple of people on board the ship have tested positive for Covid-19 and have isolated, the Sydney Morning Herald reported, citing passengers at the ship. No one is in a serious condition, the people told the newspaper. The Joint Arctic Command didn’t comment on the report.
The passengers and crew on board number 206, according to the command, and local media in Greenland have reported that about 170 are paying passengers, with rest making up the crew.
The ship is 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 polar bears, musk oxen and walrus. There are no human inhabitants except for workers at weather stations and the small unit of Denmark’s Arctic Special Forces.
Greenland has extensive home rule but is part of the Kingdom of Denmark.
“All passengers, the expedition team and crew onboard are safe and well,” Aurora Expeditions, the ship’s Sydney-based operator, said in a statement. “Importantly, there is no immediate danger to themselves, the vessel, or the surrounding environment.”
Aurora Expeditions specializes in polar trips, including a 30-day cruise costing more than $33,000 (A$51,000) per person for viewing wildlife, such as polar bears, beluga whales and walruses, according to the its website.
Greenland, like many Arctic countries, is becoming 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 jumped 50% in the past year to 600, Brian Jensen of the Joint Arctic Command said by phone. Last year, the Joint Arctic Command did one medical evacuation and so far this year it has done five, he said.