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Rescuers work to lift 1300 people off stranded cruise ship

March 25, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Floundering in heavy seas after engine failure, a cruise ship off the west coast of Norway became a focus of world attention over the weekend as authorities used helicopters in a bid to rescue over 1300 passengers and crew.

The ship, Viking Sky, finally reached shore this morning and docked in the western Norwegian port of Molde, with many of its passengers flying home as soon as possible. The next sailing (Scandinavia & the Kiel Canal), has been cancelled.

As the saga continued over the weekend, Viking Sky started moving under its own power again yesterday. A total of 479 passengers had been airlifted off the ship, as of last night.

Norway’s maritime rescue service said the Viking Sky, with 1373 passengers and crew aboard, sent out a mayday signal on Saturday as it drifted towards land. The shore is rocky and seas were running high.

The ship is 227-metres long, launched in 2017 and operated by Viking Ocean Cruises, the line founded by Norwegian billionaire Torstein Hagen. The current cruise is a 12-day voyage from Bergen, Norway to London Tilbury, themed as “Northern Lights”.

Risk of the ship running onto rocks was averted when the crew managed to restart one engine and set down anchors about two kilometres from the shoreline.

Viking Ocean Cruises said 479 people had been evacuated by last night – about 20 were said to have suffered injuries, mainly light. Norwegian TV said one 90-year-old-man and his 70-year-old wife had been more severely injured but did not give details. Most passengers are said to be British and American.

Dramatic video taken aboard ship showed water sloshing around, passengers lurching and furniture hurtling across the floor as the ship pitched in heavy seas. The only secure piece of furniture seems to be the piano, which is anchored to the floor.

American passenger John Curry described on public broadcaster NRK the moment when the ship’s engines stopped.

“We were having lunch when it began to shake. Window panes were broken and water came in. It was just chaos. The trip on the helicopter, I would rather forget. It was not fun.”

In an extraordinary and unfortunate coincidence, a second vessel, a freighter with a crew of nine, was also being evacuated nearby after suffering engine failure. This diverted helicopters and delayed the cruise ship airlift, SBS reported.

Viking Sky in calmer waters

Two purpose-built vessels operated by the Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue had set out towards the Viking Sky, only to be forced back by waves up to 8 metres high driven by winds of about 85 km/h.

Viking Sky was in a stretch of water known as Hustadvika, known for fierce weather and shallow waters dotted with reefs.

Engineers got three of the ship’s four engines working again last night (Australian time) and tugboats were trying to move the stricken ship slowly to shore. Despite the chaotic conditions aboard, passengers were yesterday said to be “fairly calm” as the rescue effort went on.

Some passengers were posting to Twitter and other social media. The sight of the piano standing firm while furniture around it slid around the floor gave rise to a truly classic pun-laced Twitter thread, as follows: 

Notice the piano isn’t going anywhere. Yet. 

It’s starting to Liszt tho… 

I hope they get a Handel on it. They seem rather Bizet. 

If it moves I’m sure it will be Bach 

It’ll be baroque though 

Lots of waves chopin at the boat 

They’re gonna need a Devienne intervention

MEANWHILE, Viking Ocean Cruises put the following statement on its website this morning (Australian time):

At 4:30pm (Norwegian time) March 24, the Viking Skydocked in the port of Molde. All passengers and crew are safe, and passengers will be flying home starting tonight.

Throughout all of this, our first priority was for the safety and well-being of our passengers and our crew. We would like to thank the Norwegian Redningssentral and the Norwegian emergency services for their support and skill displayed in managing the situation in very challenging weather conditions. We would also like to thank the local residents who throughout the whole process have been extremely supportive and hospitable. If you have questions or concerns about any guests please call this number for U.S. and Australia booked guests 1-888-889-8837, and for UK booked guests 07585 779 853 or 0208 780 7900.

The next sailing, Scandinavia & the Kiel Canal, which was scheduled to embark on March 27th has been cancelled, and guests and their travel agents have been contacted directly. We do not anticipate any additional cancellations at this time.

The YouTube clip below shows helicopters in action rescuing passengers as Viking Sky wallows a couple of kilometres from the shore.

Written by Peter Needham

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