Wednesday 23 October 2019

Elderly cruise passengers tell of horror ordeal aboard stricken ship

Disaster narrowly averted after hundreds airlifted off

Stormy seas: The Viking Sky drifts off the west coast of Norway. Photo: Odd Roar Lange / NTB scanpix via AP
Stormy seas: The Viking Sky drifts off the west coast of Norway. Photo: Odd Roar Lange / NTB scanpix via AP

Aine Fox and Henry Vaughan

A cruise ship which got into difficulties off the coast of Norway amid stormy seas has safely reached a port after around half of its passengers were evacuated.

The Viking Sky was carrying 1,373 passengers and crew, going from Norway's Arctic north to the southern city of Stavanger when it had engine trouble along Norway's rough, frigid western coast. Struggling in heavy seas to avoid being dashed on the rocky coast, the ship issued a mayday call Saturday afternoon.

Police in Moere og Romsdal said the ship's crew had managed to anchor in Hustadvika Bay on Saturday, amid fears the vessel would run aground.

Some 479 passengers were airlifted from the vessel.

There were still 436 guests and 458 crew members on board following the end of the evacuation, the operator said.

A spokeswoman for Viking Cruises said the ship had docked in the port in Molde, on Norway's west coast, at 4.30pm local time yesterday, having travelled there under its own power.

All passengers and crew are safe, she added, and passengers were due to begin flying home later on Sunday.

Viking Cruises said 20 people suffered injuries and were receiving treatment in Norway, with some discharged.

A statement from the operator thanked local emergency services "for their support and skill displayed in managing the situation in very challenging weather conditions".

The operator's chairman, Torstein Hagen, said the events were "some of the worst I have been involved in, but now it looks like it's going well in the end and that we've been lucky".

Passengers wait to be evacuated. Photo: Alexus Sheppard via AP
Passengers wait to be evacuated. Photo: Alexus Sheppard via AP
Airlift: Passengers wait their turn for helicopters as rescue workers rushed to evacuate passengers and crew. Photo: Michal Stewart via AP

The shipping tycoon, one of Norway's richest men, added: "I am very proud of our crew."

Footage online appeared to show the ship rocking dramatically, with debris falling from the ceiling and furniture including chairs sliding across the floor as passengers sat waiting to be rescued.

Derek and Esther Browne, from Hampshire, said the "whole boat was swaying, it was very rough" before they were airlifted to safety.

Mr Browne said: "We had a few people on stretchers, several with cuts, two with broken limbs, but fortunately we were alright. We were airlifted onto the helicopter which was quite a frightening experience."

He added: "I'd never been in a helicopter before, there were a lot of high winds, hovering overhead and the winchman came down and we were then collected up and so I shut my eyes as we arrived into the helicopter and there were 15 of us for about a 20-minute ride."

Norwegian media said the majority of the cruise ship passengers were British and American tourists.

The ship was due to arrive in Tilbury in Essex tomorrow.

The 745ft Viking Sky was built in 2017 and is described on the official website as a "comfortable, award-winning ship, intimate and thoughtfully created".

Irish Independent

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