Cruise Ship Stranded Off Norway Limps Toward Shore After Hundreds Evacuated

LONDON — A cruise ship carrying more than 1,300 people was finally heading to shore on Sunday after becoming stranded off Norway for nearly 24 hours with engine trouble and after a harrowing rescue operation in rough weather to evacuate hundreds of people by helicopter.

More than 890 people — 436 passengers and 458 crew members — were still on the 47,800-ton ship, the Viking Sky, as it headed toward Molde, a coastal town in western Norway, with one tugboat in front and another in the rear, the Norwegain Joint Rescue Coordination Centers said on Twitter. At 10 a.m. local time, the ship was about 50 miles from shore, having recovered the use of some of its engines.

Some rescued passengers arrived onshore bruised and battered, the Red Cross said.

“Nothing similar has happened before, not in this magnitude,” Einar Knudsen, a spokesman for the Joint Rescue Coordination Center for Southern Norway, which was leading the rescue operation, said by phone on Sunday.

The ship was scheduled to arrive on Tuesday in Britain’s Tilbury Port on the River Thames. Many older passengers were onboard, including people from the United States, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The vessel was traveling between two Norwegian ports, Tromso and Stavanger, when it sent a mayday alert on Saturday afternoon that several engines had failed.

It was not immediately clear what had caused the cruise ship to lose power. But it did so along a particularly dangerous part of the Norwegian coastline called Hustadvika, according to Eirik Walle, a coordinator for the southern rescue center.

Five helicopters and several other vessels were involved in the rescue effort. (According to local reports, two helicopters also helped a cargo ship on Saturday, the Hagland Captain, which was in Norwegian waters when it sent an SOS message saying it, too, had “engine problems.” The crew members were evacuated.)

Rough weather — high winds and 26-foot waves — hampered the effort to evacuate the passengers of the Viking Sky, which began around 2 p.m. local time on Saturday. At least three passengers had sustained serious injuries.

“Currently, we understand 20 people suffered injuries as a result of this incident,” a spokesman for Viking Cruises, which operates the ship, said by email. He added that they were all receiving medical care in Norway and that some had already been discharged.

The Red Cross said on Sunday that several of the rescued passengers had suffered cuts or broken bones. “Many are also traumatized by what they have experienced, and need to be taken care of when they land,” the statement said.

Video footage and images shared by the cruise ship passengers on social media showed a terrifying ordeal as the ship swayed and furniture and people were sent sliding across the floor. Other photographs depicted hundreds of people strapped in fluorescent life jackets.

“The ship is rocking and rolling but at anchor,” Alexus Sheppard, a passenger, told The New York Times on Saturday after having waited to be evacuated for six hours. “Everyone is calm, except when we get rolled by a big wave,” she said.

Others commended the ship’s crew members, who gave water to the passengers and made them sandwiches.

One couple, Allen and Susan Dollberg of Novato, Calif., spoke on Sunday to NRK, the Norwegian government-owned broadcaster, about their experience.

“At first we took it lightly,” Mr. Dollberg said. “We thought we would be able to to make it through that water.” But he added, “Then suddenly the alarms went off that we needed to evacuate ship.”

Ms. Dollberg said, “We looked at each other and said, ‘This is really happening.’ ”

“Everything was breaking, furniture, glassware,” she said. “The closet doors were banging back and forth.”

She added, “When we got the signal to evacuate, there was no time to think about getting important things like passports.”

The couple said they still had friends aboard the ship, saying it had been “a rough night for them.” But Ms. Dollberg praised the rescue operation: “The crew, the Norwegian people and the rescue operation have been stellar.”

On Sunday, the operation seemed under control despite the challenging weather, including strong currents, heavy winds, and high waves.

“The ship has been turned from a westward to an eastward position with the help of two tugs,” Mr. Knudsen said. “It’s moving at a speed of 8 knots,” he added, with three of its four engines now working.

The cause of the ship’s engine failure was unknown, Torstein Hagen, the Norwegian founder and chairman of Viking Cruises, which has its headquarters in Switzerland, told local news outlets on Sunday.

He also said that the passengers would be compensated. “They will get their money back,” he said, adding, “They will also have a letter from me, and be invited back again.”

Mr. Hagen told the newspaper VG Sunday: “What happened today is among the worst I ever experienced. But as it seems to all end well, I’ve got to say we have been lucky. We keep doing the best we can.”

In a statement on Sunday, Viking Cruises said, “The 479 passengers who were airlifted from the vessel are currently on shore and arrangements have been made to fly them home, with the first passengers leaving today.”

It also said that the company’s next sailing, which had been scheduled to embark on March 27, had been canceled. “Guests and their travel agents have been contacted directly. We do not anticipate any additional cancellations at this time,” the statement said.

The Viking Sky was expected to arrive in Molde around 3 p.m. local time on Sunday, but Mr. Knudsen, the spokesman for the rescue operation, said that the bad weather made the exact time hard to predict.

“There’s strong current, heavy winds, and waves between five and eight meters high. It’s impossible to say,” he said.

The cruise ship industry has suffered a number of disasters in the past decade, including the sinking of the Costa Concordia in 2012 and the deadly fire of the Norman Atlantic in 2014, as well as setbacks such as outbreaks of illness and onboard drug raids.

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