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Luxury cruise ship pulled free three days after getting stranded in Greenland

View of the Ocean Explorer, a luxury cruise ship carrying 206 people that ran aground, in Alpefjord, Greenland, 13 September 2023.
View of the Ocean Explorer, a luxury cruise ship carrying 206 people that ran aground, in Alpefjord, Greenland, 13 September 2023. Copyright Danish Air Force/Arctic Command/Handout via REUTERS
Copyright Danish Air Force/Arctic Command/Handout via REUTERS
By Euronews Travel with AP
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The MV Ocean Explorer and its 206 passengers have been pulled free after running aground in Greenland earlier this week.

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The luxury cruise ship stranded in Greenland has been pulled free at high tide. 

The successful rescue operation took place on Thursday, three days after the MV Ocean Explorer ran 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, according to 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.

What happened to the MV Ocean Explorer?

The MV Ocean Explorer ran aground in northwestern Greenland on Monday.

With the closest Danish Defence ship over 2,000km away at the time of the incident, help was not expected to arrive until Friday evening.

“Our units are far away, and the weather can be very unfavourable,” said Cmdr Brian Jensen of the Joint Arctic Command at the time.

The Joint Arctic Command is a joint operational territorial command of the Danish Defence operating in Greenland and the Faroe Islands. As well as protecting the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Denmark in the Arctic Region, it carries out search and rescue missions, research and pollution prevention tasks in the region.

On Wednesday, a research ship owned by the Greenland government unsuccessfully attempted to pull the ship off ground during high tide.

Three passengers on board the ship were reportedly isolating with Covid-19.

The 104.4-metre-long and 18-metre-wide Ocean Explorer ran aground in Alpefjord, above the Arctic Circle in the Northeast Greenland National Park. 

The park is nearly the size of France and Spain combined, and approximately 80 per cent is covered by an ice sheet. 

Alpefjord is about 240 km from the closest settlement, Ittoqqortoormiit, which is nearly 1,400 km from the country’s capital, Nuuk.

What will happen to the cruise ship passengers now?

The cruise ship and its passengers will now travel to a port where the damage to the vessel’s bottom can be assessed. The passengers will be taken to a location from where they can be flown home. 

The Bahamas-flagged cruise ship has passengers from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States. It has 77 cabins, 151 passenger beds, 99 beds for crew and several restaurants.

Jensen 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.”

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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 cancelled.”

There was no immediate comment from the tour company that organised the trip, Australia-based Aurora Expeditions.

Why did the cruise ship run aground?

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. 

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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 2 September in Kirkenes in Arctic Norway and was due to return to Bergen, Norway, on 22 September, 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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