Monday, April 23, 2007

The Andy Rover is ice-bound off Newfoundland's northeast coast as seen in this image made available by the Coast Guard.

A handful of sealing ships trapped in icy waters off the coast of Newfoundland were rescued on Saturday, but many more vessels remain in the north Atlantic as families anxiously await the return of their loved ones.

So far, 52 non-essential crew have been evacuated and at least five longliners have been completely abandoned amid concerns over dwindling food and fuel supplies.

Experienced sealers say it's not uncommon for ships to be stuck in the ice flows as they hunt for young seals, but this year's ice conditions are the worst they've seen in two decades.

Between 300 and 400 other seal hunters on more than 100 "longliner" boats were not so lucky. Most of them remain stuck in a freak build-up of pack ice – the worst anyone here can remember – that trapped them a week ago as they headed home.

There was a little light at the end of the frigid tunnel as a persistent northeasterly gale veered slowly to the southwesterly wind that will move the ice floes away. The temperature rose a few degrees, too, which will help.

Two of the Coast Guard's three icebreakers also got stuck earlier this week trying to carve a path for some of the stricken longliners to follow them to open water.

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