Friday, March 5, 2010

Shipping Halted By The Big Baltic Freeze - Freight And Ferry Traffic Trapped In Ice

Thousands Caught in Extra Cold Snap
Shipping News Feature

BALTIC SEA – The waters off the Swedish coast are never balmy in winter but the excessively cold weather, coupled with the current gale force winds, have caused dozens of freight carriers and RoRo and passenger ferries to become trapped in the abnormally thick ice. Roughly fifty freighters and half a dozen local ferries have been caught in the icy trap since yesterday with little hope of immediate rescue.

The ferries, some of which are carrying over 1000 passengers, are the main cause of concern for the Swedish Maritime Administration and other potential rescuers as the icebreakers they use are simply too few and often too inefficient to open a path up for the petrified fleet and attempts to clear a path are being hampered by the appalling weather. Officials from the Maritime Search and Rescue Centre in Gothenburg confirmed during the night that they had arranged for extra icebreakers to push through to the worst affected area.

There are reports of several collisions in the region whilst ships battled the huge ice floes but it is thought that none of them were sufficiently serious to endanger life. Ferries are the arteries for the island communities which form the archipelago in Estonian, Finnish and Swedish waters and the ships are usually strengthened to withstand these sorts of conditions. Most of the freighters are thought to be caught in the bottleneck formed around the Aland island group between Stockholm and Turku at the entrance to the Bothnian Gulf and many of the crews will be well versed in coping with such extreme conditions.

Authorities have no immediate plans for emergency rescues using helicopters and, although many are on hand, the severity of the conditions and the numbers involved preclude this as an option unless one of the trapped vessels gets into serious danger.