Norway’s Accident Investigation Board released a preliminary report Wednesday on the dramatic near-grounding of the cruiseship Viking Sky last spring. It reveals that a total of 18 alarms about low lubricating oil levels sounded on board the vessel several hours before “a complete blackout” left the ship at the mercy of stormy seas, with a total of 1,373 people on board.
“The situation was extremely dramatic,” William J Bertheussen, director of the Accident Investigation Board (Havari-kommisjonen). “Many have pointed that out, and our preliminary report supports that.”
Bertheussen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Wednesday afternoon that he and his staff are particularly interested in the “low volume” alarms registered by the operational diesel generators that supplied the Viking Sky’s electricity. They went off between 4am and 9:04am on the morning of Saturday March 23. Each of the alarms were said to have cleared within seconds after being accepted by the crew.
“No more alarms were registered,” reads the report, until 1:37pm, when another diesel generator signaled low lubricating oil pressure. Then another generator registered the same and five minutes later two generators shut down, “causing a complete blackout and loss of propulsion.”
By that time, the Viking Sky was sailing through stormy seas in what the board’s report notes was the “notoriously dangerous area” called Hustadvika. When the crew in the engine room couldn’t estimate when power could be restored, the captain was summoned to the bridge and he sent out a mayday call at 2pm. He also ordered the crew to drop both anchors but they didn’t hold, leaving the vessel dangerously adrift. A general alarm was issued 13 minutes later, “and the passengers and crew began to muster,” leading to a massive rescue operation.
Bertheussen said his investigators intend to study the earlier alarms more closely. The new report shows that lubricating oil levels were measured at between 28- and 40 percent of capacity. Recommended levels for a vessel like Viking Sky are 68- to 75 percent of capacity. Since the oil levels were so low, and the vessel rolled from side to side, three diesel generators failed within 20 minutes and the vessel lost power.
Bertheussen told NRK that it’s not unusual for many alarms to sound during controls of an engine room, where a technician was already on board to service a failed turbocharger on one of the larger generators. It was to be replaced at the vessel’s next port.
Asked why the crew didn’t seem to respond to the 18 alarms earlier in the day, Bertheussen responded that “they did a lot. We’ll get back to what they might have done differently in the final report.” He refused to speculate on whether the drama could have been avoided, saying that the main goal of the accident investigation board is to improve safety.
“If we manage to learn from what happened, and put good measures into place, future accidents can be prevented,” Bertheussen said.
No comment from Viking Ocean Cruises yet
The board already is recommending that all vessels “fill up on lubricating oil, especially in bad weather.” They will also continue to probe systems for alarm management in the engine room, route planning especially in bad weather, evacuation and safety procedures, and systems for safe return to port.
Viking Ocean Cruises had no immediate comment on the report, other than an expression of gratitude to the board for its “thorough work” from a Norwegian communications adviser who also has long worked for former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland.
“We have had a good and constructive dialogue with the accident investigation board through this whole process,” Jon Mørland, who’s been hired in by Viking, told NRK. “We will continue the close cooperation until the investigation is completed. We don’t want to comment any further until the board’s final report is presented.”
The board said the investigation would continue “as swiftly as possible” and, once complete, a report will be drafted and distributed to “key stakeholders” for a 30-day comment period prior to being published.
To read a copy of the report in English, click here (external link to the board’s own website).