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Vessel saves stranded boy – Coast Guard gives ice tips

Sea ice around Helsinki becomes more precarious as spring draws near.

Talvinen merimaisema jossa jäällä hiihtäjien jälkiä.
Springtime ice is very pretty and a good place to get exercise. But safety comes first. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

The Finnish Coast Guard says that an 11-year-old boy was picked up by a merchant vessel in Helsinki's Vuosaari on Saturday after the child was stranded on thin ice.

The young boy had been walking on the ice near the Vuosaari harbour. He was not far away from the shore, but nearby open water and the sun-weakened ice together made for dangerous circumstances.

"He was in a hazardous area of ice and could well have fallen in," says Coast Guard rescue mission coordinator Jarmo Häkkinen.

When the authorities spotted the lad they called in a Border Guard salvage helicopter, a hovercraft and both police and emergency service units to assist in his rescue.

Instead it was the crew of a regular merchant vessel from shipper Finnlines that talked the boy out of his predicament. The ship motored in close enough to convey verbal directions, and the boy was able to get off the ice and climb a ladder onto a nearby dock.

"This was a very real hazardous situation which was resolved by the crew's commendable actions," Häkkinen says.

Spring sun thaws floes in moments

Many people on the southern Finnish coast have made the most of the recent sunny subzero afternoons to go outdoors on the ice to walk or ski. However, the Coast Guard warns promenaders that walking on frozen seawater is always risky, even if the thickness of the ice seems generally load-bearing.

"It's impossible to say where the ice cover is definitely thick enough to support a person's weight," says Heikkinen. "Water currents can cause local thinning or even sudden open pools."

The wind is also a factor in ice capacity. Häkkinen says that recent northerly winds have split large pieces off the sea ice in places, and even caused open water to emerge.

Another issue affecting ice quality is that most welcome of springtime phenomena, increased sunlight. Despite nighttime freezing, the March sun can weaken sea ice significantly in a matter of hours.

"Especially if there's a layer of snow on the ice, it can be treacherous to think the non-visible ice is thick enough," Heikkinen says. "And ice that's under snow won't be re-frozen by cold temperatures."

Gear up! And think twice

Rescue chief Häkkinen says that there are a number of viable precautions to take when tramping on springtime ice.

First, tell someone where you are going and avoid moving about on ice alone. If an accident should occur, time is of the essence. The colder the season, the more critical it is to send help to the exact right location.

Things to take with you include ice picks, a whistle and a metal-headed rod or stick for testing the surface of the ice. Bringing along something buoyant can also be worthwhile.

Pack your mobile phone and some spare clothes in a watertight bag, so that you will have dry clothing and a working cell phone even if you were to get badly wet.

The Coast Guard reiterates that moving about on ice always requires special consideration. If you are unsure of the thickness of the ice, do not walk on it.

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