Sunday 21 April 2019

Wild seas slow helicopter evacuation of cruise ship off Norway

The Viking Sky, carrying 1,300 passengers and crew, reportedly ran into engine problems.

Viking Sky after it sent out a mayday signal because of engine failure off Norway (Odd Roar Lange / NTB scanpix via AP)
Viking Sky after it sent out a mayday signal because of engine failure off Norway (Odd Roar Lange / NTB scanpix via AP)

By Associated Press Reporters

Rescue workers off Norway’s western coast are working to evacuate 1,300 passengers and crew from a disabled cruise ship by helicopter as huge waves tossed the vessel ship from side to side in high winds.

Norwegian newspaper VG said the Viking Sky cruise ship issued a mayday call as bad weather hit on Saturday and engine problems caused it to start drifting toward the rocky shore.

Police in the western county of Moere og Romsdal said the crew, fearing the ship would run aground, managed to anchor in Hustadsvika Bay, between the Norwegian cities of Alesund and Trondheim, so the helicopter evacuations could take place.

Video and photos from people on the ship showed chairs and other furniture dangerously rolling from side to side, and Norwegian media reported gusts up to 38 knots (43 mph) and waves over 8 metres (26 feet) in an area known for its rough, frigid waters.

Norwegian public broadcaster NRK said the Viking Sky’s evacuation was a slow and dangerous process, as passengers needed to be hoisted one-by-one from the cruise ship to the five available helicopters.

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

Passengers were pictured in orange life vests as the waves broke some ship windows and cold water flowed over the feet of those awaiting rescue.

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Passengers rescued from the Viking Sky cruise ship are helped from a helicopter in Hustadvika (Odd Roar Lange/NTB Scanpix via AP)

“I was afraid. I’ve never experienced anything so scary,” Janet Jacob, who was among the first group of passengers evacuated to the nearby town of Molde, told NRK.

She said her helicopter ride to safety came amid strong winds “like a tornado,” prompting her to pray “for the safety of all aboard”.

American passenger John Curry told NRK that he was having lunch as the cruise ship started to shake.

“It was just chaos. The helicopter ride from the ship to shore I would rather not think about. It wasn’t nice,” Mr Curry told the broadcaster.

NRK said one 90-year-old-man and his 70-year-old spouse on the ship were severely injured but did not say how that happened.

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The cruise ship Viking Sky lays at anchor in heavy seas (Frank Einar Vatne/NTB scanpix via AP)

Later, reports emerged that a cargo ship with nine crew members was in trouble nearby, and the Norwegian rescue service diverted two of the five helicopters working on the cruise ship to that rescue.

Authorities told NRK that a strong storm with high waves was preventing rescue workers from using life boats or tug boats to take passengers ashore.

“It’s a demanding exercise, because they (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.

Norwegian authorities said the evacuation would proceed through the night into Sunday.

The Viking Sky was on a 12-day trip that began March 14 in the western Norwegian city of Bergen, according to the cruisemapper.com website.

The ship was visiting the Norwegian towns and cities of Narvik, Alta, Tromso, Bodo and Stavanger before its scheduled arrival in Tilbury in Essex on Tuesday.

The Viking Sky, a vessel with gross tonnage of 47,800, was delivered in 2017 to operator Viking Ocean Cruises.

Press Association

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