STOCKHOLM – Dozens of ships including a passenger ferry with nearly 1,000 people on board were trapped Friday in heavy pack ice in the Baltic Sea off Sweden's east coast, officials said.
Ice breakers were trying to free the ferry Amorella and two cargo ships stuck at the edge of an archipelago northeast of Stockholm, while rescue helicopters and military hovercraft were on standby to evacuate passengers if needed. Gale-force winds were hampering the effort, the Swedish Maritime Administration said.
"As soon as they break the ice, it freezes over again," sea rescue spokesman Peter Lindquist said. He said no one was hurt and there were no immediate plans to evacuate the ships.
The Maritime Administration said the Amorella had 753 passengers and 190 crew on board. The 10-deck ship belongs to Viking Line, which operates Baltic Sea cruises between Sweden and Finland.
The other ships stuck in the area were the roll-on-roll-off ferry Sea Wind with 32 people and the Regal Star, a cargo ship with 56 people on board. Three other ferries that got stuck in the ice were able to break free earlier Thursday.
One of those ships, the Finnfellow, collided lightly with the Amorella when the ice pressed the two ships together, but there was no major damage to either ship, Lindquist said. "Just some paint that was scratched off," he said.
A total of about 50 ships were stuck in ice along Sweden's eastern seaboard, said Johny Lindvall, who manages the maritime administration's ice breaker service. Heavy ice cover is not uncommon further north, but the ice rarely gets thick enough in the Stockholm archipelago to trap powerful passenger ferries like the Amorella.
"There's no danger for the passengers as long as there's food and drink on board," Lindvall told The Associated Press.
Mats Nystrom, a passenger on the Amorella, told Swedish broadcaster SVT that there was no panic on the ship.
"The atmosphere is calm so there is no danger in that sense," said Nystrom, who is a sports presenter for the network. He said the most dramatic event had been when the two ships touched.
"Suddenly in the loudspeakers there's a voice saying that all passengers must immediately move to the stern. Of course at that moment the passengers got worried and wondered what was happening," Nystrom said.
The maritime administration said the ships had ignored warnings about the icy conditions.
"Normally we can handle this type of obstacle," Viking Line CEO Jan Karstrom told SVT. "But in this case the wind is unfortunate. It's blowing toward land and it means that (the ice) is packed more and more against land."
Three Swedish icebreakers were trying to free the ship. Finland also dispatched an icebreaker to help out, said Benny Paulsson from a maritime rescue center on Finland's southwest coast.