Norwegian cruise ship was reportedly 100 metres from rocks after rough seas struck
A stricken luxury cruise liner that had hundreds of its passengers airlifted to safety over the weekend has been towed to port in Norway as it emerged it narrowly escaped running aground and a major disaster, The Guardian reports.
About 900 passengers and crew were still onboard the Viking Sky when it arrived at the port of Molde on Norway’s west coast on Sunday afternoon. Five helicopters had earlier winched 479 people to safety as huge waves tossed the ship around.
Twenty people were treated for injuries including broken bones, cuts and bruises, rescuers said.
Social media footage showed chairs, large pot plants and other furniture on the ship rolling across the floor and crashing into walls. Parts of the ceiling were falling down on to passengers as the ship swayed heavily. Passengers were wearing orange life vests as waves broke down doors and windows and cold water poured over their feet.
The cruise liner was only 100 metres away from striking rocks in shallow waters when it finally managed to turn.
“It was very nearly a disaster. The ship drifted to within 100 metres of running aground before they were able to restart one of the engines,” police chief Hans Vik, who heads the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre for southern Norway, told TV2. “If they had run aground we would have faced a major disaster.”
Among the passengers from Britain, the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia were Derek and Esther Browne. The couple, from Hampshire, said the “whole boat was swaying, it was very rough” before they were airlifted to safety.
Derek Browne told BBC Radio 5 Live: “We had a few people on stretchers, several with cuts, two with broken limbs, but fortunately we were all right. We were airlifted on to the helicopter, which was quite a frightening experience.”
The ship had started struggling with engine problems in bad weather off Norway’s western coast on Saturday afternoon, in an area known for its rough, unpredictable waters. It reportedly issued a mayday call when it started drifting towards the rocky shore. Police said the crew managed to anchor off the coast near the town of Ålesund.
The evacuations took place in extremely difficult conditions. Norwegian media reported gusts of up to 38 knots (43 mph) and waves over 8 metres (26ft) in an area known for its rough, frigid waters.Advertisement
The 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 Molde, told NRK. She said her helicopter ride to safety came amid strong winds “like a tornado”, prompting her to pray for the safety of all aboard.
An American passenger, John Curry, told NRK he was having lunch when 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,” he told the broadcaster.
NRK said one 90-year-old-man and his 70-year-old spouse on the ship were severely injured, but did not say how it happened.
The Viking Ocean Cruises chairman, Torstein Hagen, told the Norwegian newspaper VG the events were “some of the worst I have been involved in, but now it looks like it’s going well in the end and that we’ve been lucky”.
The British embassy in Oslo tweeted: “We are in touch with the Norwegian authorities and staff from the British embassy will be deploying to Molde to help any British people who require our assistance.”
Evacuations were halted while the ship was making its way back to port. It was expected to arrive on Sunday afternoon.
The area where the ship encountered problems, known as Hustadvika, is notoriously difficult to navigate. The shallow, 10-nautical-mile section of coastline is known for its many small islands and reefs.
“Hustadvika is one of the most notorious maritime areas that we have,” Odd Roar Lange, a journalist specialising in tourism, told NRK.
The Viking Sky was on a 12-day trip that began on 14 March in the western Norwegian city of Bergen, according to the cruisemapper.com website. It was visiting the Norwegian towns of Narvik, Alta, Tromsø, Bodø and Stavanger before its scheduled arrival on Tuesday in Tilbury on the River Thames.
The Viking Sky, a vessel with gross tonnage of 47,800, was delivered in 2017.