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Baltic ice traps passenger ferries
Ice in the Baltic Sea imprisons thousands of passengers and sailors.
Last Modified: 05 Mar 2010 16:10 GMT
Shipping companies report there has not been this much ice in the Baltic for over 30 years [AFP]

Around 50 ships, including  large ferries carrying thousands of passengers, have become stuck in ice on the Baltic Sea.

Swedish maritime authorities said several vessels, including at least one passenger ferry carrying more than 1,000 people, had collided with each other as they drifted amid huge blocks of moving ice.

As many as six large passenger ferries had been stuck in the ice on Thursday, Johny Lindvall of the Swedish Maritime Administration's ice breaker unit said.

But two of the ferries, including the large Isabella passenger ferry carrying 1,322 passengers and crew, were already being freed, he said.

Four other ships, including the Amorella, another passenger ferry carrying 1,313 people, were still stuck.

The ferries, nearly all transporting passengers between Sweden and Finland, had run into trouble just outside the Stockholm archipelago, made up of more than 20,000 islands, Lindvall said.

"They got caught outside the archipelago, where there is moving  ice. It's hard to navigate," he said, adding that he had not seen a situation with so many ships stuck at once since the mid-1980s.

Passengers safe

But the Viking Line ferry company insisted "there was at no time any danger to the passengers".

Jan Kaarstroem, the Viking Line chief executive, insisted in an interview with the TT news agency that his company's ferries were well equipped to handle ice and that all the passengers were safe.

Three ice breakers are in the area where the ferries are stuck and are expected to be freed by midday Friday.

Most of the commercial vessels had got stuck in the narrow Bay of Bothnia, where the ice is thicker, and around the autonomous Aaland islands.

Sweden has suffered an unusually harsh winter this year, with temperatures across the country almost continuously well below freezing since December.

Source:
Agencies
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