Several rescue attempts have so far failed to float the Australian-operated cruise ship Ocean Explorer, which has run aground in remote eastern Greenland.  Several cases of COVID-19 have also been reported on board.

Australians Gina Hill and Steven Fraser said the spirits of the 206 passengers onboard, including 90 Australians, was high despite their predicament, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The cruise was scheduled to run from September 1 to September 22 along the remote national park, 1400 kilometres north-east of Greenland’s capital Nuuk when it became stuck in Alpefjord. The itinerary featuring fiords, icebergs and musk oxen, included a journey up a channel where the Vikingebræ and Sefström glaciers meet. Suction from the glacial moraine is now keeping the ship trapped.

Chris and Tashi Lachman, the Adelaide parents of Severance and Neighbours actor Dichen Lachman, told Brisbane Times that passengers do not know what caused the ship to run aground.

“At some point in the afternoon we felt a huge continuous shudder which we assumed was the anchor being pulled up,” Chris said. “We were informed by the captain that we had collided with an uncharted underwater obstacle – perhaps the underwater tongue of the moraine from the adjacent glacier, but we can’t be sure.

“The captain tried a few manoeuvres to get us off, but presently we are well and truly stuck.”

Danish navy patrol vessel, Knud Rasmussen, was expected to arrive in the area on Friday afternoon to help free the ship, which remained marooned after high tide on Tuesday. Another attempt – with assistance from a Government-owned fishing trawler – to dislodge the vessel on Wednesday also failed.

Covid adds to concerns

Steven Fraser, who has contracted Covid on the Ocean Explorer, said the restaurant is still functioning and passengers were occupying their time sitting in on presentations from the expedition team as rescue crews continued their attempts.

“Everyone’s in good spirits. It’s a little bit frustrating, but we are in a beautiful part of the world. We’re sitting right near the glacier when we open our window,” Fraser told the Herald.

Ocean Explorer remains grounded in a remote part off the eastern Greenland coast. Photo: SIRIUS/Danish Arctic Command.

“We do have a couple of cases of Covid, but there’s a doctor on board … a lot of people on board are quite elderly.

“It’s a cruise that a lot of wealthy older people do because they can get out into these wilderness areas.”

Aurora Expeditions said there were three confirmed cases of COVID-19 on board.

“These passengers are currently in isolation. They are looked after by our onboard doctor, medical team and crew, and they are doing well. All other passengers, Expedition team and crew remain safe and healthy,” a spokesperson said.

Attempts to float ship free fail

Attempts by the ship to float free on its own at high tide have failed as has an attempt by a Greenland government-owned scientific fishing trawler, to drag the Bahamas-flagged polar class, ice-strengthened expedition vessel from its location. The trawler arrived on Wednesday but attempts to float the US$65m, 8228-ton, 2021-built Ocean Explorer free from the also failed.

The Danish Joint Arctic Command (JAC) also dispatched Knud Rasmussen, a patrol vessel operated by the Royal Danish Navy, shortly after the incident was reported. But it must travel 1200 nautical miles and would not reach the grounded ship until Friday morning local time.

“No matter what, the most important thing for us is that everyone arrives safe,” JAC head of operations, Commander Brian Jensen, said.

There are no injuries and there has been no immediate impact on the environment, according to Danish military’s Joint Arctic Command (JAC).

“We are actively engaged in efforts to free the MV Ocean Explorer, from its grounding. Our foremost commitment is to ensure the vessel’s recovery without compromising safety,” an Aurora Expeditions spokesperson said.

Another cruise ship, which Cruise Passenger identified as Silver Endeavour, had been asked to stay in the area to assist if necessary but has now moved on.

Ocean Explorer was operated under charter by Vantage Cruise Line until May 2023. Since July 2023, Ocean Explorer has been chartered by Aurora Expeditions, the 1991-founded Australian company specialising in Arctic and Antarctic cruises.

In 2023, Ocean Explorer took over the Arctic schedule of Greg Mortimer, the Aurora Expeditions cruise ship which was drydocked after suffering propeller damage, also in East Greenland. Ocean Explorer‘s operations for Aurora Expeditions only started in July.

The grounded Ocean Explorer.
The grounded Ocean Explorer has been stuck for days.