COPENHAGEN, Denmark –
A fishing vessel owned by Greenland’s government will attempt to use a high tide to pull free a Bahamas-flagged luxury cruise ship carrying 206 people that ran aground in the world’s northernmost national park, authorities said.
Capt. Flemming Madsen of the Danish Joint Arctic Command told The Associated Press that the passengers and crew on the ship stranded in northwestern Greenland were doing fine and “all I can say is that they got a lifetime experience.”
The scientific fishing vessel was scheduled to arrive later Wednesday and would attempt when the conditions were right to pull the 104.4-metre- (343-foot) long and 18-metre- (60-foot) wide MV Ocean Explorer free.
The cruise ship ran aground Monday in Alpefjord in the Northeast Greenland National Park, which is known for icebergs and the musk oxen that roam the coast. The crew made two failed attempts to get the ship to float free on its own during high tide.
In a statement, Australia-based Aurora Expeditions, which operates the ship, said the passengers and crew members were safe and well and that there was “no immediate danger to themselves, the vessel, or the surrounding environment.”
“We are actively engaged in efforts to free the MV Ocean Explorer from its grounding. Our foremost commitment is to ensure the vessel’s recovery without compromising safety,” the statement said.
An aerial photo shows 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. (Danish Air Force/Joint Arctic Command via AP)
Located across from the ice sheet that covers the world’s largest island, Alpefjord sits in a remote corner of Greenland, some 240 kilometres (149 miles) away from the closest settlement, Ittoqqortoormiit, which itself is nearly 1,400 kilometres (870 miles) from the country’s capital, Nuuk.
Dozens of cruise ships sail along Greenland’s coast every year so passengers can admire the picturesque mountainous landscape with fjords, the waterways packed with icebergs of different sizes and glaciers jutting out into the sea.
Madsen, of Denmark’s Joint Arctic Command, said the passengers on the Ocean Explorer were “a mix” of tourists from Australia, New Zealand, Britain, the United States and South Korea. Greenland is a semi-independent territory that is part of the Danish realm, as are the Faeroe Islands.
The people onboard “are in a difficult situation, but given the circumstances, the atmosphere on the ship is good, and everyone on board is doing well. There are no signs that the ship was seriously damaged by the grounding,” the Joint Arctic Command said Wednesday.
The Ocean Explorer was built in 2021 and is owned by Copenhagen SunStone Ships, which is part of Denmark’s SunStone Group. It has an inverted bow, shaped like the one on a submarine. It has 77 cabins, 151 passenger beds and 99 beds for crew, and several restaurants, according to the Sunstone Group website.
The Joint Arctic Command said there were other ships in the vicinity of the stranded cruise liner and “if the need arises, personnel from the Sirius Dog Sled Patrol can be at the accident site within an hour and a half.”.
On Tuesday, members of the Sirius Dog Sled Patrol, a Danish naval unit that conducts long-range reconnaissance and enforces Danish sovereignty in the Arctic wilderness, visited the passengers and explained the situation, “which calmed them down as some were anxious,” Madsen, who was the on-duty officer for the Joint Arctic Command, said.
The command, which was coordinating the operation to free the cruise ship, said the nearest Danish navy ship was about 1,200 nautical miles (more than 2,000 kilometres or 1,380 miles) away. It was heading to the site and could be expected to reach the grounded ship as soon as Friday.
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.