Emergency crews were still working feverishly on Friday to prevent the damaged Hurtigruten ship MS Nordlys from capsizing at the dock. The situation remained critical but a Dutch salvage team was reportedly making heroic efforts. With Hurtigruten part of the national heritage in Norway, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) kept following the drama live.
It was just three months ago that NRK ran a wildly popular live broadcast from on board another Hurtigruten ship as it sailed along the Norwegian coast. Now the situation is entirely different, after jubilation in June turned to sorrow in September.
On Friday morning the Nordlys, badly damaged by fire in its engine room on Thursday, was listing nearly 22 degrees after taking on too much water. Police said the vessel had been taking on more water than could be pumped out, and fears rose that it would topple over and sink.
The vessel’s own pumping system was damaged along with its electrical system after fire, said to be explosive in nature, broke out in the engine room Thursday morning. The vessel managed to make it into port at Ålesund, on Norway’s west coast, but by Thursday afternoon it was already listing from seawater seeping in and water used to extinguish the blaze, which left two crew members dead and 16 injured.
The emergency workers set up improvised systems to pump water off the vessel using hoses and pumps on land but they were proving inadequate through the night. Accident inspectors were unable to go on board so the investigation into the cause of the fire was delayed.
Dutch to the rescue
The picture brightened Friday afternoon after a Dutch salvage team carried out what some observers called a dangerous effort to stabilize the ship with a crane while they went on board to install new pumps. By 1pm the effort seem to be working and the vessel was listing 18-19 degrees instead of 22, according to NRK.
Hurtigruten officials, many of whom flew in from company offices in other cities to deal with the accident, were in mourning but also worked to care for passengers and crew rescued off the vessel. They described the accident as “the worst thing that can happen to a company, when there’s loss of life,” and claimed the material damage to the ship was a lower priority. Still, it was important to try to keep the vessel from capsizing.
Praise from passengers
Meanwhile, the 207 passengers on board the MS Nordlys were praising what they called an “orderly” and “calm” evacuation of the vessel when the fire broke out as breakfast was being served. There was no panic, they said, and they quickly either got into lifeboats or were able to walk off the ship when it docked.
Both passengers and many of the vessel’s 55 crew members were accommodated at hotels in Ålesund and Hurtigruten staff were working to sort out practical problems on Friday. Those on board the ship were evacuated with only what they were wearing at the time, while many passports, mobile phones and other personal possessions were left on board. Some passengers from as far away as Australia and the US thus had neither money nor identification or tickets to get themselves home.
The shipping line was promising assistance and solutions while newspaper Aftenposten reported that one group of Americans aged 60 to 80 went ahead with an organized three-hour sightseeing tour of Ålesund. “The passengers are taking this very well,” said tour guide Karin Hansen. “They think the crew on the ship was very good and now they’re trying to make the best out of this situation.”
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