Norway evacuates 1,300 passengers from stricken cruise ship

Rescue helicopters have begun evacuating people from a cruise ship which lost engine power off the west coast of Norway. Many passengers will have to wait for hours because of a "slow and dangerous" one-by-one airlift.

An operation to airlift 1,300 passengers and crew from a cruise ship adrift off the coast of Norway is underway, Norwegian emergency services said on Saturday afternoon.

The Viking Sky cruise ship sent an SOS message due to "engine problems in bad weather" in an area of water is known to be treacherous; several ships have sunk in the past.

What we know so far

  • The ship sent out a mayday signal after it suffered an engine failure and started drifting toward land.
  • The ship later restarted one engine and was at anchor about 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) from land in Hustadsvika Bay, between the western cities of Alesund and Trondheim.
  • 139 people had been airlifted by 9:30 p.m. local time (2030 UTC), according to Norwegian public broadcaster NRK.
  • Nine of those evacuated were injured, including three who are in a serious condition.
  • The airlift was set to continue throughout the night, although another vessel has been sent to the area to try to tow the ship into port.
  • A second vessel, a freighter with a crew of nine, also had to be evacuated nearby after also suffering engine failure.

Read more: Tourist survives 10 hours in water after cruise ship fall

The Viking Sky cost $400 million (€353 million) to build

Why is it taking so long? Several vessels and five helicopters were deployed to help in the rescue. However, passengers have to be hoisted out one by one. The passengers, mostly British and American tourists, are then taken being taken to a village just north of the town of Molde. Waves were 6-8 meters (19-26 feet) high and the wind was blowing at a speed of 38 knots, police told Norwegian newspaper VG.

Rescued passengers 'terrified'

Janet Jacob, who was evacuated by helicopter, told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK: "I was afraid. I've never experienced anything so scary." During her airlift, the strong winds were "like a tornado" and she said she started to pray "for the safety of all aboard."

"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," American passenger John Curry told NRK.

Lengthy rescue operation 

Police chief Tor Andre Franck said: "It is dangerous to encounter engine problems in these waters which hide numerous reefs ... therefore we would prefer to have the passengers on land rather than on board the ship."

Rescue service spokesman Einar Knudsen told the Reuters news agency that rescuing all passengers "will take a long time." 

New vessel: The ship was built in 2017 and belongs to Viking Ocean Cruises, part of the Viking Cruises group founded by Norwegian billionaire Torstein Hagen. According to the company website, its passenger capacity is 930.

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