Passengers saved from sinking ship

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Efforts were already underway Sunday to raise a chartered historic vessel that sunk during the weekend after running aground on the Nesodden peninsula off Oslo with 156 people on board. A quick and massive rescue operation got everyone off the boat before it sank.

This is the photo of the Johanna that Norway Yacht Charter has posted online in promotional material. The vessel has been operated as a charter party boat on the Oslo Fjord for 31 years and the cause of Saturday night's grounding remained unclear. PHOTO: Norway Yacht Charter

This is the photo of the historic vessel Johanna that Norway Yacht Charter had posted online in promotional material. The vessel has been operated as a charter party boat on the Oslo Fjord for 31 years and the cause of Saturday night’s grounding and sinking remained unclear. PHOTO: Norway Yacht Charter

“The rescue operations went well,” Ben Wikøren of the main emergency response unit for Southern Norway told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He said most of the passengers were quickly transferred to police boats, a fire and ambulance boat and two search and rescue vessels.

It was an otherwise beautiful Saturday evening on the Oslo Fjord with warm temperatures and mostly clear skies. The historic vessel Johanna, built in 1892 and chartered out for private parties and summer evening cruises, was heading back to Oslo after taking passengers on a blues music- and dinner cruise when it suddenly rammed into the rocky shoreline near Nessodtangen.

Sharp turn with no warning
“We were sitting on board and enjoying ourselves, eating shrimps and drinking white wine, when suddenly the boat turned sharply to the right,” one of the passengers, Randi Ødegaard, told NRK. “There were lots of people on land waving at us and we thought it was just a ‘show-off’ gesture. We thought he (the captain) would swing away (from land) again, but he didn’t.” Ødegaard said the vessel ran right into a rocky cliff on Nesodden.

Passengers who were below deck in the toilets experienced water pouring into the boat and got wet themselves. Everyone reportedly managed to get up on deck of the double-masted sailing-and motor vessel, however, and were picked up by other vessels quickly at the scene. Private boatowners out on the fjord also sailed up and were on the lookout for anyone who may have landed in the sea, but no one had.

Police said the captain of the vessel was quickly cleared of any suspicion of being under the influence, and that it remained unclear why the boat ran aground. An investigation was underway.

Passengers said they were pleased, even impressed, by the emergency response that also included a helicopter and ambulance crews meeting them upon arrival at the nearby ferry terminal on Nesodden. The only injuries were a few bumps and bruises.

Stabilizing and salvaging the vessel
Norway Yacht Charter, which operates the 93-foot Johanna, has described the vessel as one of Norway’s oldest vessels. It’s been sailing on the Oslo Fjord for the past 31 years and is often used for private parties including one four years ago hosted by the Thai Embassy, which offered a Thai Cultural Night on the fjord. The Johanna could carry up to 200 passengers, and search and rescue officials initially reported 158 were on board. That was later adjusted to 156, including 149 passengers and a crew of seven.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported Sunday that the vessel was being secured on Sunday so that it would remain as stable as possible until it could be raised. Kristian Qvigstad of Norway Yacht Charter AS and Båtservice Sightseeing, both long-time operators of boats on the Oslo Fjord, said the company was determined to save the Johanna.

Qvigstad said neither the captain nor the company can understand how or why the accident could occur. The vessel swerved to the right with no warning while sailing north and close to the shore as usual.

“We have no idea what happened, whether it was technical failure or human error,” Qvigstad told Aftenposten. He said the captain had managed to maneuver the vessel after the grounding to delay its sinking. “He’s an experienced and highly competent seafarer and we know that he is very upset about what happened,” Qvigstad said.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund