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Greenlandic authorities investigating the sinking of the Inuk II, a privately hired boat ferrying passengers from a cruise ship in Ilulissat Sunday night, are remaining tight-lipped about the incident until they have a complete overview of what caused the vessel to take on water, forcing the evacuation of all 23 passengers and three crew members.
“We’re working with a few theories about what happened, but we want to have the entire sequence of events in place before we go public with anything,” Sebastian Bech, the acting police commissioner in Ilulissat, said in a statement released Monday.
Investigators have previously stated they do not believe there was another boat involved in the incident, which took place in Greenland’s most-visited tourism destination. On Sunday, they also stated that it was likely the Inuk II collided with something in the water before it began taking on water, though they did not indicate what.
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What is known is that the Inuk II, a 39-foot power boat rated to a capacity of 22 passengers, was 100 metres from the L’Austral, a French-flagged luxury expedition ship, when it began taking on water and rapidly sinking. Authorities say their initial interviews with the passengers aboard the Inuk II, as well as other eyewitnesses, have revealed that the quick, professional response of other boats in the vicinity at the time helped to avert a serious incident.
Those present, including the skipper of the boat that took on passengers from the damaged ship as it sank, described a situation in which the Inuk II disappeared almost entirely under water less than 10 minutes after it began taking on water.
“There were several tourist ships carrying cruise ship passengers,” Jens Ole Thomassen, whose ship, the Clane, a wooden fishing vessel rated to 16 passengers was the first on the scene, told sermitsiaq.ag, a website operated by The Arctic Journal’s parent company.
“I had just dropped off the passengers my boat was carrying when I got a call from the skipper saying that the Inuk II was unable to steer, and that it was requesting assistance. I was 200 metres away. By the time I came alongside, the boat had already taken on a lot of water in the aft.”
According to Mr Thomassen, when the Clane arrived, the skipper of the Inuk II was at the rear of the boat struggling to manually release its life rafts, which by that point were submerged but had not released automatically, possibly because they were not far enough under the water, mariners not present during the incident told The Arctic Journal.
The rafts eventually released on their own, Mr Thomassen said, but by then the passengers were already making their way aboard the Clane, which had tied a rope to the sinking vessel to keep it from drifting away.
“At that point I also radioed mayday. Theinflatable boats from the L’Austral were already on their way and by the time they reached us there were two other tourist vessels on hand waiting to assist. By then, we had so many people aboard the Clane that I had to ask some of them to go over to the other side so we wouldn’t capsize,” Mr Thomassen said.
By the time the final cruise passenger left the Inuk II, the water had risen to waist level, according to Mr Thomassen. An Inuk II crewmember made a final check to make sure all passengers had been evacuated before the securing line was cut in order to prevent the Clane from being dragged down with the sinking boat.
Before being taken back to the L’Austral aboard rubber rafts, the 23 passengers were attended to by two of the Clane’s crewmembers who, coincidentally, are nursing students.
“They took care of the passengers, gave them blankets to warm them and got them calmed down while they were waiting to get back on the L’Austral.”