HELSINKI/OSLO - A cruise ship that broke down in rough seas off the western Norwegian coast with more than 1,300 passengers and crew on board has restarted three of its four engines and will be towed to port, emergency services said Sunday.
“Three of the four engines are now working, which means the boat can now make way on its own,” emergency services spokesman Per Fjeld said.
The Viking Sky lost power and started drifting midafternoon Saturday about two kilometers (1.2 miles) off More og Romsdal in dangerous waters and high seas, prompting the captain to send out a distress call and trigger a massive airlift operation.
Passengers hoisted off one by one
That sent rescue workers rushing to evacuate the passengers and crew by helicopter, winching them one-by-one to safety as heaving waves tossed the ship from side to side and high winds battered the operation.
The airlift continued into the early morning, Fjeld said. And police said 379 of the 1,373 people on board had been taken off by helicopter.
Police in the western county of Moere og Romsdal said the crew managed to anchor in Hustadvika Bay, between the Norwegian cities of Alesund and Trondheim, so the evacuations could take place.
Rescue teams with helicopters and boats were sent to evacuate the cruise ship under extremely difficult circumstances, including gusts up to 38 knots (43 mph) and waves more than 8 meters (26 feet). The area is known for its rough, frigid waters.
Norwegian public broadcaster NRK said the Viking Sky’s evacuation was a slow and dangerous process, as passengers needed to be hoisted one-by-one from the cruise ship to the five available helicopters.
“I was afraid. I’ve never experienced anything so scary,” Janet Jacob, among the first group of passengers evacuated to the nearby town of Molde, told NRK.
Police said that 17 people had been taken to hospital, including, NRK said, one 90-year-old-man and his 70-year-old spouse who were severely injured but did not say how that happened.
The majority of the cruise ship passengers were reportedly British and American tourists.
Video and photos from people on the ship showed it heaving, with chairs and other furniture dangerously rolling from side to side. Passengers were suited up in orange life vests but the waves broke some ship windows and cold water flowed over the feet of some passengers.
American passenger John Curry told NRK that he was having lunch as the cruise ship started to shake.
“It was just chaos. The helicopter ride from the ship to shore I would rather not think about. It wasn’t nice,” Curry told the broadcaster.
Once the vessel was able to restart the engines, it began making slow headway at 2 to 3 knots (4-5 kilometers) an hour off the dangerous, rocky coast and a tug will help it toward the port of Molde, about 500 kilometers northwest of Oslo, officials said.
Later, reports emerged that a cargo ship with nine crew members was in trouble nearby, and the local Norwegian rescue service diverted two of the five helicopters working on the cruise ship to that rescue.
Authorities told NRK that a strong storm with high waves was preventing rescue workers from using lifeboats or tug boats to take passengers ashore.
Fjeld said rescuers were prioritizing the nine crew members aboard the Hagland Captain cargo ship, but later said they had all been rescued and the helicopters had returned to help the Viking Sky.
The cruise ship was on a 12-day trip that began March 14 in the western Norwegian city of Bergen, according to the cruisemapper.com website.
Agence France Presse contributed to this report.