At least thirty-four people were injured, at least one seriously, when the high-speed catamaran Aurora Explorer collided with the dock in Barentsburg at about 10 a.m., according to The Governor of Svalbard.
The boat, which operates day trips between Longyearbyen, Barentsburg and Pyramiden, was carrying 121 passengers and four crew members when the collision occurred. Police Chief Lt. Arve Johnsen said the cause remains unknown, but alcohol is not believed to be a factor.
“Probably there was something technical that happened when they were trying to dock,” he told Svalbardposten. “It was not going at a very high speed when the boat hit the dock.”
Officials initally said 18 people were injured before the total was increased to 34 Sunday evening, including 33 passengers and a crew member. Johnsen said the injuries to the person most seriously hurt are not considered life-threatening.
“There are signs of fractures, facial injuries, and damage to the neck and back,” he said. “The damage is not life-threatening, but it is a matter of damage that can not be treated in Svalbard, so it is considered serious damage.”
An air ambulance flight from Alta took off at 1:36 p.m. and was expected to land in Longyearbyen shortly after 3 p.m. to retrieve the injured passenger, according to Nordlys. A total of about 10 people were taken to Tromsø as of Sunday evening.
Six people were initially taken to the hospital in Barentsburg while the other injured passengers were being brought to Longyearbyen, with the first arriving at about 1:25 p.m. and others being transported by the Norwegian Coast Guard, according to reports.
A press release from the governor at 5:20 p.m. stated 19 injured passengers had or were being taken to Longyearbyen, with the most seriously injured sent to Tromsø for treatment. The other injured passengers were not mentioned in the statement.
Both of the governor’s rescue helicopters were used during the operation, which involved the Norwegian Coast Guard, Joint Rescue Coordination Centre of Northern Norway, Longyearbyen Red Cross and other agencies.nine medical personnel were sent from University Hospital in Northern Norway in Tromsø aboard an SAS flight that departed just before 1 p.m. Sunday.
“It is necessary to reinforce the capacity up there,” Hilde Annie Pettersen, a spokeswoman for the hospital in Tromsø, told NRK.
Longyearbyen Hospital posted signs announcing it is closed in order to deal with the catastrophe and the adjacent Rabalder cafe at Kulturhuset was closed (and the Sunday night movie cancelled) so it can serve as a crisis staging area for other returning passengers and families of the victims.
The Tromsø-based company Arctic Explorer, which operates the boat, posted a statement on its Facebook page Sunday that damage to the vessel is still being determined.
“Therefore we have chosen to cancel today’s trip to Pyramiden in the evening and tomorrow’s trip to Barentsburg,” the statement notes. “We will come with further updates regarding upcoming trips as soon as the extent of the accident is determined.”
The Aurora Explorer returned to Longyearbyen on Sunday evening and initial reports indicated the vessel sustained only above-waterline damage to its hull.