Luxury cruise ship stranded in Greenland with Covid-positive passengers is finally pulled free

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The luxury cruise ship MV Ocean Explorer was successfully pulled free on Thursday, three days after running aground in Greenland 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 Joint Arctic Command, which coordinated the operation.

“There have not been any injuries to anybody onboard, no pollution of the environment and no breach of the hull,” SunStone Ships said in a statement. The research vessel which pulled the cruise ship belongs to the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, a government agency, it said.

It said the cruise ship and its passengers will now travel to a port where the damage to the vessel’s bottom can be assessed, and the passengers will be taken to a location from where they can be flown home. There was no immediate comment from the tour company that organized the trip, Australia-based Aurora Expeditions.

The cruise ship ran aground Monday above the Arctic Circle in Alpefjord in 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 covered by an ice sheet. Alpefjord is about 240 kilometers (150 miles) from the closest settlement, Ittoqqortoormiit, which is nearly 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) from the country’s capital, Nuuk.

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 Ocean Explorer, which ran aground last Monday, in Alpefjord, is aided by a research vessel on Thursday. AP

Earlier Thursday, Aurora Expeditions said 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,” it said in a statement. Others on the MV Ocean Explorer are “safe and healthy,” it said.

Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald quoted a retiree from Australia who is on the ship, Steven Fraser, as 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 had come down with Covid-19 on the ship.

Cmdr. Brian Jensen of the Joint Arctic Command told Greenland broadcaster KNR that the ship is likely to go to Iceland, the closest place with large ports.

“Now it is exciting to find out what the condition of the ship is,“ Jensen was quoted as saying by KNR. “They are in the process of investigating whether the ship is intact and seaworthy and ready to sail on.”

The ship’s owner said several other vessels had rushed to the scene “and offered their assistance, which however, was not needed.” It said it had also “arranged additional tug assistance in case it was needed, however, this has now been canceled.”

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

Danish broadcaster DR said there were 400 cruises in Greenland in 2022 and 600 cruises in 2023.

The Danish Maritime Authority 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 has 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 said.

The cruise liner began its current 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.

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