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Norwegian cruise liner reaches port after near disaster, dramatic rescue operation

Updated March 25, 2019

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The cruise ship Viking Sky arrives at port off Molde, Norway, on Sunday March 24, 2019, after problems in heavy seas off Norway's western coast. ─ AP
The cruise ship Viking Sky arrives at port off Molde, Norway, on Sunday March 24, 2019, after problems in heavy seas off Norway's western coast. ─ AP

OSLO: A cruise liner that ran into trouble in stormy seas off Norway reached port under its own steam on Sunday after hundreds of passengers were winched to safety by helicopter in a spectacular rescue operation.

Escorted by tugboats, the Viking Sky arrived in the port of Molde at around 4:15pm (1515 GMT), television images showed. Nearly a third of its 1,373 passengers and crew had already been airlifted off the ship.

The cruise liner lost power and started drifting on Saturday afternoon two kilometres off a stretch of Norwegian coastline notorious for shipwrecks.

The captain sent out a Mayday prompting authorities to launch the airlift in difficult conditions rather than run the risk of leaving people on board.

Some 460 of the 1,373 people on the ship had been taken off by five helicopters before the airlift was halted.

Police said 17 people had been taken to hospital. One person more than 90 years old and two 70-year-olds suffered serious fractures.

With three of four engines restarted on Sunday, two tugs towed the vessel away from dangerous reefs before it set sail for Molde, 500kms northwest of Oslo, under its own power.

Dramatic footage of the passengers’ ordeal showed furniture and plants sliding around the lurching vessel as parts of the ceiling came down.

Dozens of passengers wearing life jackets were seen seated waiting to get off the ship.

“I have never seen anything so frightening,” said Janet Jacob, who was rescued. “The helicopter trip was terrifying. The winds were like a tornado,” she added.

Passenger Rodney Horgan said he had been reminded of the Titanic. “The best word, I guess, is surreal,” he said.

But it all ended well for Ryan Flynn. “Here’s my 83-year-old dad being airlifted from the #vikingsky,” he said. “We are all off the ship safely!”

The ship was sailing south from Tromso to Stavanger when engine trouble struck mid-afternoon on Saturday in an area off More og Romsdal that has claimed many vessels.

NORWEGIAN cruise ship Viking Sky (left) arrives at a port in Norway on Sunday after it got stranded off the country’s western coast in heavy seas the previous day. Rescue helicopters winched more than 475 passengers one-by-one to safety as heaving waves tossed the ship from side to side and high winds buffeted the operation. The vessel at last departed for the nearby Molde port under escort and with nearly 900 people still on board.—AP
NORWEGIAN cruise ship Viking Sky (left) arrives at a port in Norway on Sunday after it got stranded off the country’s western coast in heavy seas the previous day. Rescue helicopters winched more than 475 passengers one-by-one to safety as heaving waves tossed the ship from side to side and high winds buffeted the operation. The vessel at last departed for the nearby Molde port under escort and with nearly 900 people still on board.—AP

“It is dangerous to encounter engine problems in these waters, which hide numerous reefs,” said Tor Andre Franck, the head of police operations.

A reception centre was set up in a gym on shore for the evacuees, many of whom were elderly and from the United States and Britain.

The area where the ship got into problems, known as Hustadvika, is notoriously difficult to navigate.

The shallow, 10 nautical mile section of coastline is dotted with small islands and reefs.

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

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 Cruises, the Viking Sky was 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.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2019