Ferries, cargo ships stuck in ice in Baltic Sea with 1,100 on board

By Karl Ritter, AP
Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ferries stuck in ice in Baltic Sea; 1,100 on board

STOCKHOLM — Nearly 1,100 people were trapped Thursday on two passenger ferries and two cargo ships that got stuck in ice Thursday in the Baltic Sea off Sweden’s east coast, and rescuers were on standby to evacuate them if needed, officials said.

Ice breakers in the area were trying to free the ships, but gale-force winds were hampering the effort, the Swedish Maritime Administration said.

“As soon as they break the ice, it freezes over again,” sea rescue spokesman Peter Lindquist said. He said no one was hurt and there were no immediate plans to bring people off the ships, but helicopters and military hovercraft were on standby in case evacuations would become necessary.

The Maritime Administration said one of the ships was the Amorella, a passenger ferry with 943 people on board. It belongs to Viking Line, which operates Baltic Sea cruises between Sweden and Finland.

The other ships were the smaller Via Mare ferry carrying 66 people, the roll-on-roll-off ferry Sea Wind with 32 people and the Regal Star, a cargo ship with 56 people on board, officials said.

They were all stuck in the ice at the edge of archipelago which is about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the mainland.

Two other ferries that got stuck in the ice were able to break free earlier Thursday.

One of those ships, the Finnfellow, collided lightly with the Amorella when the ice pressed the two ships together, but there was no major damage to either ship, Lindquist said. “Just some paint that was scratched off,” he said.

Mats Nystrom, a passenger on the Amorella, told Swedish broadcaster SVT that there was no panic on the ship.

“The atmosphere is calm so there is no danger in that sense,” said Nystrom, who is a sports presenter for the network. He said the most dramatic event had been when the two ships touched.

“Suddenly in the loudspeakers there’s a voice saying that all passengers must immediately move to the stern. Of course at that moment the passengers got worried and wondered what was happening,” Nystrom said.

The maritime administration said the ships had ignored warnings about the icy conditions.

“Normally we can handle this type of obstacle,” Viking Line CEO Jan Karstrom told SVT. “But in this case the wind is unfortunate. It’s blowing toward land and it means that (the ice) is packed more and more against land.”

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