F/V Saputi crew recount ship hitting ice off Baffin Island

There were gasps of joy, tears and applause at the Iqaluit airport as crew members of the fishing vessel Saputi arrived from Nuuk, Greenland, following a close call at sea last week when they struck ice and took on water.

Crew spent more than 30 hours pumping water from stricken vessel

Applause, gasps of joy and tears greeted rescued crew members of the fishing vessel Saputi who arrived at Iqaluit airport on Saturday following a close call at sea last Sunday when the vessel struck ice and took on water.

All 30 crew members — including seven from Nunavut — arrived from Nuuk, Greenland, following 18 others who arrived in Iqaluit on Friday.

Alaasua, 7, and Aaliyah, 2, were clasping welcome home signs as they rushed to greet their father, James Akavak. Akavak was too choked up to speak as he clung to Aaliyah whispering "daddy's home."

'I was big time scared'

Andy Koapie, Simon Kullualik, Jimmy Ipeelie, and Joey Akpalialuk, overcome with the emotional outpouring, stepped out for some fresh air to calm their nerves.

"I was big time scared," Koapie told CBC News in describing his feelings as the ship took on water in Davis Strait. "I thought I wouldn't see them again," he said, referring to his family.

In another corner Sakiasie Aliqatuqtuq's mother sobbed as she clung to her son.

The F/V Saputi was fishing for turbot when it ran into ice about 10 p.m. ET. on Sunday 

"It was very loud and I got up right away," Sakiasie Aliqatuqtuq of Qikiqtarjuaq told CBC News. "I know other ice aren't that loud and the one we hit was very loud, it even woke me up.

"We were taking [on] water and we had to go to the cargo hold to help the other guys, and after that we had to pump the water out," he said.

Crew pumped water for 30 hours

The ship's two pumps were not enough to stop the rising water, Aliqatuqtuq said. But help arrived from a Danish coast guard ship and a Canadian Hercules aircraft, which dropped emergency pumps for the vessel.

"The Danish navy crew came in and  gave us like two more pumps, and Canadian coast guard came and we had three more pumps," Aliqatuqtuq said.

The F/V Saputi in Nuuk, Greenland. (Ludvig Siegstad)
The crew worked the pumps for more than 30 hours, but their catch of turbot and shrimp clogged the line. Then they were transported to Nuuk, a hard journey delayed by choppy seas and strong winds, which meant days of being on stand-by.

"The deck hands and the crew members told us not to panic and told us not to worry about anything so we just kept on going like that," Aliqatuqtuq said.

Despite the moral support, "after a while I almost freaked out  and panicked," he said.

'I'm going to stay home for a while'

Many of the crew had a hard time putting their thoughts into words on Saturday, and most were not ready to think about getting back to sea.

"I'm going to stay home for a while," Aliqatuqtuq said.

The Qikiqtaaluk Fisheries Corporation said about $2 million of fish and shrimp was lost due to the damaged cargo hold. They estimate repairs to the ship will cost around $1.5 million.

Despite the damage Qikiqtaaluk president and CEO Harry Flaherty said he was grateful to have the crew back home safe.

"All I can say is I can smile again," he said. "It's been hard for us too as management, trying to keep track of what was going over there, knowing the hardship they were going through, the safety of the crew, it was always our No. 1 priority."

With files from Mike Salomonie


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