08/04/2012 06:18 EDT | Updated 10/04/2012 05:12 EDT

Canadian Coast Guard helps students in ice-bound Iqaluit reach their ship

IQALUIT, Nunavut - The Canadian Coast Guard helped an Arctic expedition called "Students on Ice" get on its way this weekend after the students ended up with a lot more ice than anticipated.

Over 100 students, teachers and guides had planned to board their educational ship in Iqaluit on August 1, but couldn't because the harbour was choked with ice from Frobisher Bay.

After days of waiting, the Coast Guard ship Des Groseilliers agreed to help.

Students On Ice operations manager Reina Lahtinen said a Coast Guard barge was able to navigate between the ice and bring the students to the Des Groseilliers late Friday.

The students were then transferred ship-to-ship in groups on Zodiac rafts to their own vessel, which was waiting outside in a part of the bay that was ice-free.

"We were lucky last night because the tides were high because it was a full moon, and winds were low," Lahtinen said Saturday, noting that the transfer was tricky.

"Obviously in those conditions, there is some risk," she explained. "We didn't really have any other options at that point."

Lahtinen said the amount of ice in Iqaluit is unusual for this time of year, and is due to unusual winds and currents.

Students On Ice is a Gatineau, Que.-based educational organization that leads expeditions for high school and university students to the Arctic and Antarctic. The expeditions focus on issues of culture, environment, politics of the polar regions.

Most of the students on the two-week trip are Canadian, Lahtinen said, although some are from other countries.

Lahtinen said the operation to get them from the shore and onto their own ship took about three hours.

Keith Ashfield, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, issued a statement Saturday congratulating the Coast Guard for the successful operation.

The statement noted the North can be a dangerous and unpredictable place with extreme weather and ice conditions that can make travel treacherous.

"We are so pleased that the Canadian Coast Guard could assist these stranded students in getting safely to their research vessel," the joint statement read.

"People in the North are well-served by Canada's Coast Guard who go above and beyond the call of duty to help with humanitarian incidents such as this."

Lahtinen said the group had been in Iqaluit after flying from Ottawa on July 30. They had completed their planned pre-expedition programs while staying in the student residences at Arctic College, but due to the delays had a lot of extra time to fill.

Luckily, Lahtinen said, many community members in Iqaluit stepped forward to provide extra presentations and entertainment.

"It really added to the experience of these students. They got to spend an extra couple of days in Iqaluit and to really have a sense of what it's like to live in the north and befriend these people in the community and other youth in Iqaluit," Lahtinen said.

Lahtinen said the ice itself even provided some entertainment.

"When the tides were out, the students were able to walk out into Frobisher Bay and walk amongst the bergy bits and the pieces of iceberg. So we literally had students walking on ice."

The group will eventually sail to Greenland where they will board a flight back to Canada.