Four ferries freed from Baltic Sea ice

Last Updated: Friday, March 5, 2010 - 13:01

Stockholm: A passenger ferry with nearly 1,000 people on board returned safely to the Stockholm harbour early Friday after having broken free from heavy pack ice that had trapped it for hours in the Baltic Sea of Sweden`s east coast, officials said.
Three other ferries that got stuck in the ice were able to break free on Thursday.

Dozens of other ships and boats had also been stuck as gale-force winds built up large ice masses along the Swedish coastline.

Ice breakers had helped release the ferry Amorella at the edge of an archipelago north of Stockholm. Rescue helicopters and military hovercraft had been placed on standby to evacuate passengers if needed. No one was injured.

"It arrived in the port during the morning," Sea rescue spokeswoman Christel Englund said.

The Swedish Maritime Administration said the Amorella had 753 passengers and 190 crew on board. The 10-deck ship belongs to Viking Line, which operates Baltic Sea cruises between Sweden and Finland.

Englund said only one ship, the Regal Star, a cargo ship with 56 people on board, was still stuck in the ice. Icebreakers would try to set it free Friday morning.

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, officials said.

A total of about 50 ships were stuck in ice along Sweden`s eastern seaboard, said Johny Lindvall, who manages the maritime administration`s ice breaker service. Heavy ice cover is not uncommon further north, but the ice rarely gets thick enough in the Stockholm archipelago to trap powerful passenger ferries like the Amorella.

"There`s no danger for the passengers as long as there`s food and drink on board," Lindvall 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 front. 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."

Three Swedish icebreakers helped free the ship. Finland also dispatched an ice breaker to help out, said Benny Paulsson from a maritime rescue centre on Finland`s southwest coast.

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First Published: Friday, March 5, 2010 - 13:01

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