Norway rescuers airlift 1,300 passengers off cruise ship in storm

Oslo, Norway Published: Mar 24, 2019, 06:19 AM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( AFP )

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The Viking Sky lost power and started drifting mid-afternoon two kilometres off More og Romsdal, prompting the captain to send out a distress call.

Rescuers were working into the night on Saturday to airlift 1,300 passengers and crew off a cruise ship after it got into difficulty in rough seas off the Norwegian coast.

The Viking Sky lost power and started drifting mid-afternoon two kilometres off More og Romsdal, prompting the captain to send out a distress call.

The crew managed to restart one of the engines and drop anchor but authorities decided it was too risky for passengers to remain on board.

Five helicopters were scrambled along with coastguard and other rescue vessels.

"I have never seen anything so frightening," said one of the passengers who was rescued, Janet Jacob.

"I started to pray. I prayed for the safety of everyone on board," she told the NRK television channel.

"The helicopter trip was terrifying. The winds were like a tornado," she added. 

Pictures broadcast in media reports showed passengers on board as the boat rocked up and down.

"We were sitting down for breakfast when things started to shake... It was just chaos," said another passenger, American John Curry, as quoted in Norwegian by media.

Tor Andre Franck, the head of the police operations, said: "The boat only has one working engine and the winds are rather strong. Therefore we would prefer to have the passengers on land rather than on board the ship." 

Notorious seas 

The Viking Sky sent out a distress signal due to "engine problems in bad weather", southern Norway's rescue centre said earlier on Twitter.

By 9:00 pm 136 people had been evacuated, with each helicopter able to take 15-20 people per airlift.

"The operation is going on all night long. The people are safe on board," said Per Fjeld, a rescue centre official.

The ship was travelling south en route from Tromso to Stavanger when it got into trouble in an area that has claimed many ships.

"It is dangerous to encounter engine problems in these waters, which hide numerous reefs," Franck said.

A reception centre has been set up in a gym on shore to accommodate the evacuees, many of whom are from the US and Britain.

Another vessel had been dispatched to try to tow the Viking Sky into port, potentially removing the need for the airlift.

"The boat is stable. It has dropped anchor and one of its engines is working," said a rescue centre spokesman, Borghild Eldoen.

"For the moment everything appears to be going well," added another spokesman, Einar Knutsen.

The centre said eight people had suffered minor injuries.

The area where the ship is stranded, known as Hustadvika, is notoriously difficult to navigate.

The shallow, ten nautical mile section of coastline is known for its many small islands and reefs.

"Hustadvika is one of the most notorious maritime areas that we have," Odd Roar Lange, a journalist specialising in tourism, told NRK.

In their time, the Vikings hesitated to venture into the Hustadvika, preferring instead to transport their boats by land from one fjord to another.

Operated by the Norwegian firm Viking Ocean Cruisers, the Viking Sky is a modern cruise ship launched in 2017 with a capacity of 930 passengers plus crew. 

In addition to US and British nationals, there were also passengers from 14 other countries on board, Fjeld said.

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