Airlift for cruise ship passengers as second vessel sends SOS

Top News | 25 Mar 2019

Nearly 500 people have been airlifted by rescuers to safety from a luxury cruise liner with engine trouble off the coast of Norway and the vessel is being towed to a nearby port.

The Viking Sky, with 1,373 passengers and crew on board, sent out a mayday signal on Saturday as it drifted toward land in the Norwegian Sea.

The airlift of passengers from the ship by helicopter was suspended yesterday as two tugboats started steering the vessel toward the port of Molde on Norway's west coast.

A freighter has experienced an engine seizure in the same stormy region. Authorities said two of the five helicopters rescuing the cruise ship passengers had to be diverted to help the Hagland Captain cargo vessel's crew of nine in the storm.

The helicopters, which have been hoisting the Viking Sky passengers from the ship's deck one by one, remained on standby in case the captain decides to restart the airlift, the rescue service said.

"The captain says he considers the situation for passengers on board to be safe," a spokesman for the rescue service said.

The ship was carrying 915 passengers, of whom "a large number" were from the United States and Britain.

Some 17 injured passengers had been taken to hospital, while others suffered minor cuts and bruises. "Many have also been traumatized by the experience and need care when they arrive on shore," the Norwegian Red Cross said.

The airlift had gone on through the night. The ship has been able to restart three of its four engines yesterday but still needed assistance.

Stormy weather conditions had improved in the early hours yesterday, with winds blowing at 14 meters per second, down from 24m per second previously, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

Images and film posted by passengers on social media showed furniture sliding around as the vessel drifted in waves of up to eight meters.

Janet Jacob, among the first group of passengers evacuated, said her helicopter ride to safety came amid strong winds "like a tornado," prompting her to pray "for the safety of all aboard."

In one video posted to Twitter, water can be seen rushing through the ship as passengers raise their legs to avoid the flooding.

"We were having lunch when it began to shake. Window panes were broken and water came in. It was just chaos," American passenger John Curry said.

The stretch of water known as Hustadvika and surrounding areas are known for fierce weather and shallow waters dotted with reefs.

Built in 2017, the Viking Sky is 227m and 29m wide, according to the Viking Ocean Cruises website.

REUTERS, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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