Oslo - Rescue helicopters evacuated dozens of people from a luxury cruise ship which suffered engine failure on Saturday in stormy weather off the west coast of Norway, police and rescue workers said. The maritime rescue service said the Viking Sky, with about 1,300 passengers and crew on board, had sent out a mayday signal as it had been drifting towards land. The crew were later able to restart one engine and the ship was at anchor about 2 km from land and the passengers were considered safe although the evacuation was set to continue, the rescue service said. Only 87 people had been evacuated by 1750 GMT, and the airlift was set to continue throughout the night, rescue service spokeswoman Borghild Eldoen said.
Eight of those evacuated had suffered light injuries. Passengers were hoisted one-by-one from the deck of the vessel and airlifted to a village just north of the town of Molde on Norway’s west coast. Cruise passengers described the moment when the ship’s engines stopped, and the evacuation that followed. “We were having lunch when it began to shake. Window panes were broken and water came in. It was just chaos. The trip on the helicopter, I would rather forget. It was not fun,” American passenger John Curry told public broadcaster NRK. A second vessel, a freighter with a crew of nine, was also being evacuated nearby after suffering engine failure, diverting helicopters and thus delaying the cruise ship airlift, the rescue centre added. Two purpose-built vessels operated by the Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue had been forced to turn back due to the severe weather, the service said. Waves were 6-8 metres high, with wind blowing at 24 metres per second, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.
The storm was expected to last at least until midnight local time (2300 GMT). The stretch of water known as Hustadvika and surrounding areas are known for fierce weather and shallow waters dotted with reefs, and Norway is evaluating whether to build a giant ocean tunnel through a nearby mountain to improve safety. The Viking Sky, built in 2017, belongs to Viking Ocean Cruises, part of the Viking Cruises group founded by Norwegian billionaire Torstein Hagen. According to the company’s website, its passenger capacity is 930. Several vessels and four helicopters took part in the rescue and facilities to receive passengers have been set up on land, the rescue service said. All search and rescue teams in the region are mobilising, including 60 volunteers from the Norwegian Red Cross, a spokesman said. Viking’s operational headquarters, located in Basel, Switzerland, did not respond when contacted by telephone.