Stricken Norwegian cruise liner reaches port after hundreds airlifted to safety

Monday, March 25, 2019

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OSLO, Norway (AFP) — A cruise liner that ran into trouble in stormy seas off Norway reached port under its own steam yesterday after hundreds of passengers were winched to safety by helicopter in a spectacular rescue operation, TV images showed.

Escorted by tugboats, the Viking Sky arrived at the port of Molde at around 4:15 pm (1515 GMT). Nearly a third of its 1,373 passengers and crew had already been airlifted off the ship after it lost power along a stretch of Norwegian coastline notorious for shipwrecks.

The Viking Sky lost power and started drifting Saturday afternoon in perilous waters two kilometres (1.2 miles) off More og Romsdal, prompting the captain to send out a distress call.

The authorities launched an airlift in difficult conditions rather than run the risk of leaving people on board.

Some 460 of the 1,373 people on board had been taken off by five helicopters before the airlift was halted to allow towing to begin.

Police said 17 people had been taken to hospital. One person aged in the 90s and two 70-year-olds suffered serious fractures.

With three of four engines restarted yesterday, two tugs towed the vessel away from dangerous reefs.

Dramatic footage of the passengers' ordeal showed furniture and plants sliding round the lurching vessel as parts of the ceiling came down.

Dozens of passengers wearing life jackets were seen seated waiting to get off the vessel.

“I have never seen anything so frightening,” said Janet Jacob, who was rescued.

“I started to pray. I prayed for the safety of everyone on board,” she told the NRK television channel.

“The helicopter trip was terrifying. The winds were like a tornado,” she added.

“We were sitting down for breakfast when things started to shake... It was just chaos,” said another passenger, American John Curry, as quoted in Norwegian by local media.

Passenger Rodney Horgan said he had been reminded of the Titanic.

“The best word, I guess, is surreal,” he said.

“Sea water 6-7 feet (about two metres) high just came rushing in, hit the tables, chairs, broken glass and 20-30 people just ... went right in front of me.

“I was standing, my wife was sitting in front of me and all of a sudden, she was gone. And I thought this was the end,” Horgan said.

But it all ended well for Ryan Flynn. “Here's my 83-year-old dad being airlifted from the #vikingsky,” he said.

“We are all off the ship safely!”

The Viking Sky sent out a distress signal due to “engine problems in bad weather”, the rescue centre tweeted earlier.

The ship was sailing south from Tromso to Stavanger when engine trouble struck in an area that has claimed many vessels.

“It is dangerous to encounter engine problems in these waters, which hide numerous reefs,” said Tor Andre Franck, the head of police operations.

A reception centre was set up in a gym on shore for the evacuees, many of whom are elderly and from the United States and Britain.

“For the moment everything appears to be going well,” said a rescue centre spokesman, Einar Knutsen.

The area where the ship got into problems, known as Hustadvika, is notoriously difficult to navigate.

The shallow, 10 nautical mile section of coastline is dotted with 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.

In their time, the Vikings hesitated to venture into the Hustadvika, preferring instead to transport their boats by land from one fjord to another.

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