Efforts Fail to Free Cruise Ship Grounded in Remote, Northern Greenland

cruise ship aground
Ocean Explorer remains aground after attempting to free itself and a fishing boat attempted to pull it free (SIRIUS/Arctic Command photos)

Published Sep 13, 2023 2:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

Denmark’s Joint Arctic Command is reporting that several attempts to free the Ocean Explorer, an expedition cruise ship grounded in a remote part of Greenland above the Arctic Circle, failed. The passengers and crew are reported to be in no immediate danger as the Arctic Command works with its partners to explore alternatives for the ongoing rescue operation.

“The crew and passengers are in a difficult situation, but after the circumstances, the atmosphere on the ship is good and everyone on board is fine,” the Joint Arctic Command said in their update. They were successful in placing personnel from the SIRIUS unit, their dog sled patrol stationed in the area, aboard the ship on Wednesday. The team briefed the passengers and crew and reported the situation aboard remained calm.

The 343-foot ship registered in the Bahamas, went aground on Tuesday, September 12, with a total of 206 passengers and crew aboard. They were cruising in the Alpefjord, a remote area of northern Greenland that is reported to be approximately 150 miles from the closest settlement and nearly 1,000 miles from Greenland’s capital city. The Command reports there are passengers from Australia, New Zealand, the UK, the U.S., and South Korea aboard.

The 8,200 gross ton cruise ship is owned by SunStone Ships and operates under charter to Australia’s Aurora Expeditions. They recently took over the charter of the ship and a sister ship after another operator went bankrupt. The Ocean Explorer was cruising as a stand-in for another sister ship, the Greg Mortimer, which is currently undergoing repairs after suffering propeller damage in June while cruising in heavy ice in Greenland.


Teams for the dog sled patrol reached the ship to access the situation (SIRIUS/Arctic Command photos)


The Ocean Explorer twice attempted to refloat itself during high tide without success. This morning, the Tarajoq, a 1,000 DWT fishing research vessel owned by the government of Greenland and operated by the Institute of Nature, arrived in the Alpefjord. At high tide, they attempted to pull the Ocean Explorer free, but the Arctic Command reports the effort was unsuccessful.

The priority for the Arctic Command is now to get their patrol vessel the Knud Rasmussen to the cruise ship. Their vessel was 1,200 nautical miles away and was dispatched yesterday. However, the ship has been forced to slow its speed due to the weather and instead of arriving Friday morning is now expected during the evening of Friday, September 15.

They said that the SIRIUS team would remain available. In addition, the Command is in contact with other ships in the area. Yesterday, they reported that another cruise ship had been asked to remain in the area and to be available to provide assistance if the situation arose.


Ocean Explorer remains aground with the patrol ship not expected till Friday evening (SIRIUS/Arctic Command photos)


The Arctic Command is saying that there are no indications of damage to the Ocean Explorer. Pictures show the cruise ship sitting high at the bow and low at the stern. The location however appears to be in a sheltered area of the fjord, which could provide some protection if the weather deteriorates. Currently, the meteorological service reports the air temperature is 41 degrees F and the sun is out with clear skies.

Speaking with the Associated Press, Captain Flemming Madsen of the Danish Joint Arctic Command said, “All I can say is that they (the passengers) got a lifetime of experience.”