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Dozens of ships freed from Baltic Sea ice

5 March 10 10:20 GMT

Dozens of ships that had been trapped in ice in the Baltic Sea off Stockholm, some for several days, have been freed, Swedish maritime authorities have said.

A spokesman told the BBC that the last vessel was rescued from the waters between the capital and the Aland Islands early on Friday morning.

At least 26 ships are awaiting help further north in the Bay of Bothnia.

On Thursday, icebreakers had to be used to free the ferry Amorella, which had 943 passengers and crew on board.

Two other ferries, the Isabella and the Finnfellow, managed to break free on Thursday, the Swedish Maritime Administration said.

There was a minor collision between the Finnfellow and the Amorella when they tried to manoeuvre in the ice on Thursday, but there was no major damage reported by either vessel.

Mats Nystrom, a passenger on the Amorella, said that had been the most dramatic moment.

"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," Mr Nystrom told Sweden's SVT broadcaster.

Jonas Lindvall, the controller of the icebreaking unit at the maritime administration, said sea ice in the area would not normally have been a problem for merchant ships.

However, onshore winds of about 72km/h (45mph) had pushed the ice rapidly towards the coast and created ridges which the merchant ships could not cope with, he said. Icebreakers subsequently had to be deployed by both Sweden and Finland.

"They got caught outside the archipelago, where there is moving ice. It's hard to navigate," Mr Lindvall told the AFP news agency, adding he had not seen so many ships stuck at once since the mid-1980s.

The weather conditions are expected to improve on Friday.

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