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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 16:30 GMT
Baltic ferry towed to safety
The ferry Isabella of the Viking Line
The passengers were stranded on board for 20 hours
A ferry carrying more than 800 passengers has been finally towed to safety after running aground in the Baltic Sea about 300 kilometres west of Helsinki.

The ferry, the Isabella, was en route from Turku to Stockholm when it struck rocks after midnight on Thursday near the Aland Islands.

Several tug boats towed the Viking Line ship to the nearby Langnas harbour, from where the passengers were to be taken to the Aland Islands' main town of Mariehamn to continue their journey.

"It has been a long journey and passengers are calm but tired. They are happy they are getting to their destination. Well, nearer to it," a company spokeswoman told the Reuters news agency.

Earlier, the company said there was no danger of the ferry sinking and that the situation was under control.

"It is not a big accident. There have been no injuries," a spokeswoman said.


My drink went crashing to the floor, and it was difficult to stand without falling. There was no real panic, but some were clearly worried

Jussi Maanonen, passenger
The ferry had a damaged propeller and rudder, and it also suffered a slight puncture in the outer layer of its twin-bottom hull.

Rescue ships and helicopters were sent to the scene for possible evacuation, but the Finnish coast guard decided that they were not necessary.

Coast guard officials said the passengers did not panic, despite some media report of panic.

Jussi Maanonen, one of the passengers, was in the bar when the ship ran aground.

The ferry Estonia
The wreck of Estonia now lies in 80 metres of water

"My drink went crashing to the floor, and it was difficult to stand without falling," he told the Associated Press news agency via his mobile phone.

He said that minutes after the accident alarm bells sounded and the passenger were given life vests.

"There was no real panic, but some were clearly worried. After about a half-hour we were told it was not a serious accident and they fed us in the restaurants," he said.

The worst maritime accident in the Baltic Sea happened in 1994 when more than 800 died after the Estonia ferry sank of the Finnish coast.

The ferry was travelling from the Estonian capital Tallinn to Sweden.

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