Stranded Expedition Cruise Ship Refloated by Greenland Research Ship

Ocean Explorer cruise ship
Ocean Explorer was stranded for four days in the remote Aplefjord in Northeast Greenland (SIRIUS/Arctic Command)

Published Sep 14, 2023 10:28 AM by The Maritime Executive

The expedition cruise ship Ocean Explorer (8,200 gross tons) which had been aground since Monday in a remote part of Greenland was successfully refloated early on Thursday. The Joint Arctic Command announced the successful operation which was confirmed by the vessel’s owners SunStone Maritime Group of Denmark.

The vessel was pulled free of the mud by the fishing and ocean research vessel Tarajoq, which is operated by the Greenland Nature Institute. The 200-foot, ice-reinforced ship which is 2,800 gross tons was specifically designed to sail and work in Arctic waters and entered service just last year for the government of Greenland. SunStone thanked the operators of the ship for their willingness to assist and the ease at which an agreement was reached for the research vessel to come to their aid. The Tarajoq arrived to assist on Wednesday, just two days after the grounding, and made two attempts on Wednesday unsuccessfully to pull the cruise ship free.

SunStone reports that the cruise ship was freed at high tide using its own power and the tow from the research vessel. They had also arranged for tugs to go to the aid of the Ocean Explorer, but reported they are no longer needed and have been canceled. The Ocean Explorer is undergoing initial checks now that it is again afloat and with the approval of the authorities in Greenland and Denmark is expected to proceed to a nearby port to undergo further inspections. The passengers will be flown home, although reports from Aurora Expeditions are that three passengers are currently quarantined after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

A Danish patrol ship, the Knud Rasmussen had also been dispatched by the Arctic Command to assist the cruise ship. The patrol ship however was 1,200 nautical miles away and although it began the trip on Monday shortly after the grounding was reported was not expected to arrive until Friday. Further, yesterday they reported that weather was slowing the ship which was now expected to reach the Ocean Explorer on Friday evening.

Other cruise ships from QUARK Expedition, Silversea Cruises, and Hurtigruten, also had all reached out and offered their assistance. The Arctic Command reported they had asked at least one of the cruise ships to remain in the area in case the need arose for assistance.

The refloating operation was aided by relatively good weather and it appears the cruise ship was in a sheltered area in Alpefjord. The air temperature was reported 41 degrees F, with calm winds and seas. It, however, was a remote location approximately 150 miles from the closest settlement and nearly 1,000 miles from Greenland’s capital. SIRIUS, the dog sled patrol teams were able to reach the vessel during the incident to check on the 206 passengers and crew and provide information.

The grounding has left unanswered questions about the navigational equipment available to cruise ships sailing in these remote areas which are not well charted. It also raised concerns about the safety protocols and resources available in these remote areas. The Danish Maritime Authority and the police report that they will be investigating why the ship ran aground and whether any laws had been violated.