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Baltic ice traps 50 ships

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Some 50 ships, including passenger ferries, have been stranded in the iced-over Baltic Sea according to maritime authorities in Sweden.

Reports detail the plight of the commercial vessels that are awaiting aid from ice-breakers, with up to six passenger ferries carrying thousands of people included in the freeze. Two of the ships have so far been freed. Swedish maritime authority spokesperson Johny Lindvall has called the situation the worst since the 1980s.

Of the six stranded passenger vessels, five were making the trip between Finland and Sweden, while the sixth the Regal Star had been travelling to Estonia when it became frozen-in early Thursday morning. The actual numbers of passengers across the two largest ferries involved in the freeze are still unclear, with reports suggesting from 1,841 up to 2,630 people aboard the Amorella and Isabella. The latter was able to be freed by aid vessels but the Regal Star and Amorella remain enclosed in ice. Authorities from the shipping lines which operate the vessels have stated that all are equipped to handle such an emergency and there is no danger to the passengers.

There are currently two ice-breakers at work in the area while a third, fresh from similar rescue missions at Bay of Bothnia to the north, is on its way. The ship is not expected to arrive in the area until later today, meaning another night on the ice for passengers.

Most of the stranded ships are wedged in the frozen waters around the Stockholm archipelago, where some 20,000 islands are surrounded by constantly moving ice.