Cargo Ships Become Stranded in Harsh Winter Conditions Near Estonia

stranded cargo ships
Estonian ro-ro ferry Toll was used to open a path for one of the stranded cargo ships (Praamid)

Published Jan 3, 2024 3:40 PM by The Maritime Executive


Two general cargo ships became stranded overnight as the area around Estonia between the Gulf of Riga, the Gulf of Finland, and the Baltic experienced harsh winter conditions. Local officials said there have not been major ice problems in the past few years, but overnight strong winds and drift ice combine to immobilize the two small cargo ships.

One vessel, a Portuguese-flagged ship the Bugoe (5,500 dwt) remains trapped waiting for weather conditions to improve. The second vessel, a Latvian-flagged cargo ship the Friendland (4,700 dwt) was rescued by a local ferry and was able to continue on its trip across the Baltic to Finland.

Estonia’s maritime services had posted reports of severe ice conditions for the region which were exacerbated by the winter storm with strong winds. The Estonian State and Transportation Administration reported today they were suspending pilot services in the area due to the current weather conditions. 

The Estonian shipping company Praamid, which operates the TS Laevad ferries running between the Estonian mainland and a series of western islands at the northern end of the Gulf of Riga, reports it received a call for assistance Wednesday morning from the Latvian cargo ship which said it was stuck in the ice flows. 

Overnight the vessel experienced strong easterly winds around 30 mph that had caused the drift ice to block the shipping lane. The ship was forced to standstill as it became trapped in the ice flows. Despite having the highest ice class hull, A1 rating, the Friendland reported it was trapped in the Vainameri Sea as it was attempting to reach the Baltic.

TS Laevad’s ferry the Toll also with an A1 ice rating made its way to the stranded cargo ship attempting to clear a channel. The ro-ro ferry which is 5,000 gross tons is used by Estonia to assist with icebreaking in the region when necessary. It was able to open a channel and escorted the Friendland back to the south and open water where the vessel was able to resume its trip to Finland.

The Bugoe, however, has not been as fortunate. The vessel was south of Muhu also in the northern portion of the Gulf of Riga when it reported it was driven off course due to the strong winds and ice flows. The vessel became stranded in shallow waters. A local tug boat and the pilot boat worked to guide the cargo ship back to the channel but reported they were unable to complete the rescue due to the current weather conditions. 

The ship remains stuck with its AIS signal showing it is not under command. The hope is that the winds will change directions and subside by Friday, permitting more water back into the channel to free the ship. The hope is that the vessel will be able to make its way back to Roomassaare Port on Saaremaa, an island in the northern reaches of the Gulf of Riga when conditions improve.