Sealing Vessels Stuck In Ice, Rescue Vessels Stuck Too

| Fri Apr. 20, 2007 1:09 PM EDT

I've spent a lot of time at sea and wish no mariner harm. But… the Canadian sealing fleet is stuck in heavy ice off Newfoundland! CTV reports the Canadian coast guard estimates that between 400 and 500 people are stranded in as many as 100 vessels. "It's a dangerous situation,'' Eldred Burden, 48-year-old skipper who is trapped aboard his 18-meter vessel, told the Canadian Press via telephone. "There's not one thing you can do ... We're getting dragged out pretty good. You're up all night and the boat is heaving and twisting.''

Supplies and fuel are running low for many of the ships -- most of them longliner fishing vessels waylaid off the coast of northeast Newfoundland and southern Labrador, while on their way home from last week's seal hunt. Even a Coast Guard ice breaker, the Sir Wilfred Grenfell, sent to help, was stuck in the ice Wednesday as the massive sheets closed in around it. It's since been freed, but another icebreaker, the Ann Harvey, is now stuck.

Some of the ships have been stuck in the ice for as long as eight days, and it appears that conditions wouldn't improve until at least next week. In total three icebreakers are working the rescue, with three helicopters delivering supplies, and another three Cormorant search and rescue helicopters on standby. As many as a dozen of the ships are extensively damaged and some could even begin to take on water as the ice pressure subsides and they begin to slip back into the water.

If only Neptune had waylaid them before the seal hunt. Altogether a bad season for sealers (and seals), since the southern slaughter grounds were decimated by ice melt earlier this spring, drowning the baby seals and forcing even the hard-hearted Canadians to call off that stage of the hunt.--Julia Whitty