A cruise ship with engine problems sent a mayday call off Norway’s western coast on Saturday as it desperately tried to avoid being grounded on the rocky coast.
Rescue workers then launched a high-risk evacuation of the ship’s 1,300 passengers and crew, winching them one-by-one up to helicopters as heaving waves tossed the ship from side to side.
The Norwegian newspaper VG said the Viking Sky cruise ship ran into propulsion problems as bad weather hit Norway’s coastal regions on Saturday and started drifting toward land.
Police in the western county of Moere og Romsdal said the ship, fearing it would run aground, managed to anchor in Hustadsvika Bay, between the western Norwegian cities of Alesund and Trondheim, so the evacuations could take place.
Rough, frigid waters
Rescue teams with helicopters and boats were sent to evacuate the cruise ship under extremely difficult circumstances. Norwegian media reported gusts up to 70 km/h and waves over eight metres. The area is known for its rough, frigid waters.
Norwegian public broadcaster NRK said the Viking Sky’s evacuation was going to be a slow and dangerous process, as passengers needed to be hoisted from the cruise ship to the five available helicopters one by one. By 6 p.m. local time, some 100 people had been rescued and were being taken to a nearby sports hall.
Passengers rescued by helicopter from the cruise ship Viking Sky are seen in Hustadvika, Norway, on Saturday. (Odd Roar Lange/EPA-EFE)
Authorities told NRK that a strong storm with high waves was preventing rescue workers from using life boats or other vessels in taking passengers ashore.
“It’s a demanding exercise, because [the passengers] have to hang in the air under a helicopter and there’s a very, very strong wind,” witness Odd Roar Lange told NRK at the site.
Rolling from side to side
Video and photos from people on the ship showed it heaving, with chairs and other furniture dangerously rolling from side to side. Passengers were suited up in orange life vests but the waves broke some windows and water flowed over the feet of some passengers.
The cruise ship Viking Sky can be seen drifting toward land in strong winds, off Hustadvika Bay, Norway. The vessel sent out a distress signal because of propulsion problems. (Frank Einar Vatne/EPA-EFE)
According to the cruisemapper.com website, the Viking Sky was on a 12-day trip that began March 14 in the western Norwegian city of Bergen.
The ship was visiting the Norwegian towns and cities of Narvik, Alta, Tromso, Bodo and Stavanger before its scheduled arrival Tuesday in the British port of Tilbury on the River Thames.
The Viking Sky, a vessel with gross tonnage of 47,800, was delivered in 2017 to operator Viking Ocean Cruises.