UPDATED: One by one, horrified passengers were being evacuated by helicopter from the cruiseship Viking Sky after it was hit by engine failure in stormy seas just off Norway’s West Coast on Saturday. Despite several hours of rescue efforts, only around 160 passengers had been brought to safety by midnight, while around 1,100 people remained on board.
The drama unfolded in the bay of Hustadvika north of Molde, in an area dreaded by sailors for its difficult, dangerous waters. Around 1,300 people were on board the Viking Sky, most of them American and British passengers, with a crew of around 250. The relatively new vessel, which entered service in 2017, was reported to have dropped anchor 2.5 nautical miles from the shore.
Rescue efforts were further complicated when the cargo vessel Hagland Captain, with a crew of nine on board, also ran into trouble in the same stormy area, sending out distress signals. The vessel, loaded with timber, was on its way to the Norske Skog paper plant at Skogn in Trøndelag. Search and rescue officials said the vessel also had dropped anchor and two helicopters were sent to assist.
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All nine people on board were later rescued by helicopter, several of them plucked up from the icy seas into which they’d jumped. Per Fjeld of the search and rescue service told NRK that none of them were injured “but they are wet and cold.” They were flown to land along with passengers being rescued from the cruiseship.
(Article continues under video from the cruiseship emergency.)
The Viking Sky anchored on Saturday afternoon as rescue efforts got underway. They continued into the night. VIDEO: CHC Helicopters/Hovedredningssentralen Sør-Norge (Joint Rescue Coordination Center, South Norway)
Weather conditions were described as rough, with almost 40-knot winds and eight-meter waves pounding both vessels.
Eight passengers on the cruiseship were reported to have suffered injuries and were among the first to be airlifted from the scene. Three of the injured were said to be in serious condition, with one airlifted from a local hospital in Molde to the much bigger and better-equipped Haukeland Hospital in Bergen.
Waves crashed through windows
Other passengers arriving ashore on rescue helicopters told reporters of scary scenes on board as waves crashed through windows, flooding the floors in some areas of the Viking Sky.
One eyewitness on board, Janet Jacob, told state broadcaster NRK that many of the passengers were still having lunch when an officer announced that the vessel was in trouble and heading for the shore. The passengers felt the ship shaking, she said. “I got scared. I’ve never experienced anything so scary. I started to pray, I prayed for the safety of everyone on board,” she told NRK.
Jacob was traveling with her husband and two friends. “At first, we were evacuated to the next level up, as windows were crushed and water flowed in. The wind was like a tornado,” she said.
Passenger video posted on YouTube showed furniture sliding from side to side of the large vessel as it was tossed by the powerful waves. Another video showed a piece of ceiling falling down and hitting two passengers.
Rescued passengers not needing medical attention were taken to a hotel in Molde.
“It was just chaos. I’d rather not recall the helicopter trip from the ship to the shore. It was not nice,” said American passenger John Curry, among those evacuated to a hotel with fellow traveler Sandy Writtenhouse.
“It was a very scary experience. I just wanted to get on that helicopter and to the shore as fast as possible,” Writtenhouse told NRK.
Police officials described the situation as “dramatic” but claimed that passengers were not in life-threatening danger. The evacuation was reportedly carried out by five helicopters, taking 10-15 passengers on each flight.
A fleet of tug boats was directed to the area, part of an effort to tow the Viking Sky out to calmer waters.
It was unclear on Saturday night what had caused the engine failure. According to some on board, both of the vessel’s engines had stopped, but that the crew had managed to restart one of them.
The vessel is operated by Viking Ocean Cruises, which was founded by Norwegian shipowner Torstein Hagen. It was on its way from Tromsø in Northern Norway to Stavanger on the West coast. It had been scheduled to arrive shortly past noon on Sunday.
Hagen’s Viking Ocean Cruises, operated from Switzerland, made headlines in Norway after Hagen had chosen Bergen’s mayor at the time to christen the line’s first ship (Viking Star) that he intended to home-port in the West Coast city. Mayor Trude Drevland of the Conservative Party and the former harbour director in Bergen. Inge Tangerås, were later charged with corruption after accepting a lavish trip to Venice on a private jet for the ship’s launch in 2014, all paid for by Hagen. At issue were potential conflicts of interest, not least after Drevland had done some lobbying on Hagen’s behalf, but she contended she was only trying to drum up business for Bergen’s harbour. State prosecutors ultimately opted against indictments.