A large scale rescue operation took place in Gulf of Riga overnight Thursday to Friday after a small ferry serving two of Estonia's smallest islands started listing. Half-a-dozen people, including two crew members, remained on the ferry, which then made its way toward the Latvian harbor town of Mersrags, arriving at around 2.30 p.m. Friday.
Seven people were evacuated by helicopter from the Amalie early on in the incident, which started late Thursday night as the vessel started to list 10-15 degrees, in heavy seas. A further three people were evacuated by boat, and one individual was taken to hospital in Pärnu.
Global shipping tracking site MarineTraffic showed the the Amalie, as having arrived at Mersrags as of 2.30 p.m. Friday, while local webcams appeared to show the ferry in port there also.
The Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) had evacuated by helicopter some of the passengers in the small hours of Friday, while six people remained on board.
The ferry had been en route from Ruhnu, in the middle of the Gulf of Riga, to Kihnu, off the Southwest coast of Estonia, when the incident started.
The Amalie remained afloat and navigable with a 10-15 degree list, and made its way to the Latvian coast, escorted by other vessels, including those from the Latvian navy.
Initially, the Amalie's crew had attempted to steer the vessel to Ruhnu harbor (see map below) before having to divert towards the Latvian coast due to rough seas.
A PPA spokesperson has said that a shifting cargo complement was the cause of the incident, alongside the poor conditions.
The PPA then ascertained how many people were on board the Amalie following these evacuations; the figure was initially set at five, but at around 7 a.m. local time this number was revised upwards to six: Four passengers and two crew members.
PPA Northern Prefecture operating manager Taavi Kirss said at 4 a.m. on Friday that: "The helicopter crew evacuated seven people from the ferry, taking them to Ruhnu island."
"One of them required medical attention and was taken to Pärnu Hospital," Kirss added.
The helicopter in use needed refueling and had to return to Tallinn for that purpose. In the event, it did not return, while three more people were taken off the Amalie and on to another vessel, and six remained; since there were no concerns about their health and well-being, the decision was taken that they remain aboard while the Amalie limped home to Mersrags.
"Due to the unfavorable wind direction in the area and the list of the ship, Amalie's attempts to enter the harbor at Ruhnu have failed, so a decision has been made that would be safest to sail towards the coast of Latvia," Kirss went on.
"A PPA helicopter is ready on Ruhnu Island and to react if necessary, while Latvia has also sent one ship to rendezvous with the Amalie," Kirss went on.
At 7.15 a.m., Taavi Kirss said the Amalie was around two nautical miles from the Latvian maritime border, progressing at a low speed and remaining otherwise stable.
Ruhnu mayor: Cargo not properly secured, shifted
The Amalie sails between Kihnu, population a little under 500, and Ruhnu, population around 55, to order, rather than being a scheduled service; Thursday's sailing was intended to be the last of the year.
Two cars, a trailer, an excavator and an empty Alexela fuel truck were the vehicles on board.
Ruhnu's mayor, Andre Nõu, told ERR Friday morning that the Amalie is a vital vessel for residents, since another ferry used to service the island, the Runö, cannot carry vehicles over three tonnes in mass.
The Amalie's total cargo capacity is 35 tonnes, and it can ferry larger vehicles such as those on board, and other heavy loads including construction material.
Nõu told ERR that he himself had taken part in loading the vessel; the list occurred in bad weather, and cargo had shifted to the port side due to not being properly secured, Nõu said. It was this that caused the vessel to heel.
The videos (click player) above and below show footage of the Amalie making way in heavy seas after the list began.
Amalie to press on to Mersrags, Latvia
Sven Janson, operational manager of PPA's Western Prefecture, told ERR shortly after noon that the Amalie was making its way to Mesrags, on the Curonian peninsula, and was already in Latvian waters.
While the ferry was expected to arrive at the harbor in Mersrags this evening, between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., according to website Marinetraffic, the Amalie had already arrived as of 2.30 p.m. Estonian time.
Weather conditions had improved through the course of Friday.
Latvian authorities were on hand for the Amalie's arrival and to receive the six on board.
The cargo issues will first need resolving given the continued list, Janson added.
Editor's note: This article was updated to include Andre Nõu's comment and details on the Amalie's cargo at the time of the incident, as well as its arrival time and arrival in Mersrags.
Editor: Andrew Whyte