The stricken cruise ship Viking Sky was last night inching its way to shore under three engines and with two tugs alongside after a day in which helicopters plucked 400 passengers to safety off the coast of Norway.
Viking Cruise Lines has confirmed to Cruise Passenger that Australians are among the 930 passengers on the ship, trapped two kilometres off shore in Norway’s notorious Hustadvika area in high winds.
According to a Viking Cruises statement: “A small number of non-life threatening injuries have been reported”. The Red Cross reported bruising, broken bones and cuts.
Some 1,000 passengers and crew were pictured on social media wearing life jackets and awaiting rescue on board the ship – some with water washing at their feet from broken windows.
Norway’s sea rescue agency said the Viking Sky sent out a distress signal on Saturday answered by police in the county of More og Romsdal. The ship had lost engine power and some witnesses said there were concerns it might run aground on nearby rocks.
The crew managed to start one engine so the vessel could drop anchor.
Tonight, local reports from Norway suggested two more engines had been brought on stream and the ship might be able to dock.
“There are at least two or three helicopters still rescuing people from the cruise ship but there is only one helicopter in operation at one given time because of the weather,” a spokesperson from Norwegian rescue services (HRS Southern Norway) told CNN.
“They work in rotations because it is not possible to hoist people from two helicopters working at one time.”
American passenger John Curry told public broadcaster NRK: “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.”
There was praise for the crew, who can be seen in the videos helping passengers to safety.
After being evacuated to shore, American passenger Jan Terbruegen described the scenes on board the Viking Sky to CNN affiliate Dagbladet.
“Furniture would slide across the room, slide back and with it came people and glass. It was a very dangerous situation frankly,” Terbruegen said.
“We were trying to stay lower in the ship towards the center just because it was a recipe for seasickness. And then they called muster stations and within half an hour we figured out that we’re getting off here. We could see that we were getting blown in towards some rocks. That was the most frightening thing I think. But luckily that wasn’t our destiny.”
Fellow passenger Beth Clark described to Dagbladet being airlifted from the vessel.
“The guy came down from the helicopter — one of the Coast Guards — snapped my belt and said ‘hold it’ and shot me up about 100 feet in the air and onto the helicopter,” she said.
According to the BBC, five helicopters and several ships were taking part in the evacuation, but a freighter – Hagland Captain – also lost engine power and two helicopters were diverted to rescue its crew.
This is the dramatic footage of the helicopter rescue. Watch the video here
The helicopters take up to 15 passengers, who were being winched from the deck one by one.
Reports said the ship had managed to restart one engine and move slightly further from the coast as the evacuation continues.
Fisherman Jan Erik Fiskerstrand, whose boat was one of the first to come to help Viking Sky, said the captain started the engine and fastened the anchor, preventing the ship from hitting nearby rocks.
The Norwegian Meteorological Institute says some waves are more than 10 metres high, with one local newspaper reporting lifeboats were forced to turn back en route to the ship due to the “brutal” conditions.
Those brought ashore are being taken to a local sports complex. Accommodation had been found for them in local hotels.
Viking issued a statement around midday Sydney time:
“We can confirm that on March 23rd at 2pm (Norwegian time) the vessel Viking Sky, a 47,800 tonne ship travelling from Tromsø to Stavanger, carrying 915 guests and 458 crew, experienced a loss of engine power off the coast of Norway near Molde.
“We are working closely with the relevant authorities and all operational procedures were followed in line with international regulations. In addition Viking has dispatched an operational task force, including the company’s owner, to Molde.
“Our first priority was for the safety and wellbeing of our passengers and our crew, and in close cooperation with the Norwegian Coast Guard, the captain decided to evacuate all guests from the vessel by helicopter.
“The ship is proceeding on its own power and a tugboat is on site. The evacuation is proceeding with all necessary caution. A small number of non-life threatening injuries have been reported. Guests are being accommodated in local hotels when they arrive back on shore, and Viking will arrange for return flights for all guests.