It resembled a scene from "The Perfect Storm,” but, fortunately, the ending was happier. On Sunday, Viking Cruises’ 930-passenger Viking Sky—aided by tug boats—docked in Molde, Norway, after a harrowing day in treacherous sea and wind conditions.
All passengers are now “safe,” although some were injured in the ordeal, the line said in a statement.
But it definitely could have turned out much worse, considering events that unfolded on Saturday and Sunday morning.
The 47,800-gross-tonnage ship was sailing from Tromso to Stavanger when it encountered horrific weather—in an area known for rough seas and shipwrecks. Winds were gusting to 43 mph; waves were as high as 26 feet.
Then, the ship lost power and began drifting precariously close to the rocky coast. Photos from land showed the ship just offshore and land/rocks in the foreground. In a Twitter post by Alexus Sheppard (@alexus309), you can see the rocking of the ship, with furniture sliding across the floor and pieces from the ceiling falling down.
Ship Sends Mayday Call
Viking Sky's captain sent out a "mayday" call to Norwegian coastal authorities, and rescue ships and helicopters were dispatched. The responding ships—designed for maritime rescue—had to turn back due to sea conditions that were just too treacherous.
A cargo ship with nine crew members onboard responded to the cruise ship's SOS call, but soon found itself in trouble and had to send its own “mayday.” Tugboats simply couldn’t assist either vessel in those conditions.
Viking Sky's captain decided that all passengers would be air-lifted by helicopter off the stricken vessel. This was a painstaking, slow and difficult operation.
Initially, five rescue helicopters responded, but two—for a time—were diverted to helping the crew on the cargo ship.
Police in Norway’s western county of Moere og Romsdal told Norwegian media that the crew—fearful the ship could run aground—managed to anchor the ship in Hustadsvika Bay, between Alesund and Trondheim. That allowed the helicopter evacuations to take place.
One by one, passengers were hoisted upward to the helicopter, pulled in, and then the helicopters headed ashore and dropped passengers to safety and into the care of Norwegian authorities and medical personnel.
By 6 p.m., Saturday, more than 100 people were evacuated.The evacuation process continued through Saturday night in darkness and high winds, a harrowing experience in its own right. Some passengers rescued this way described the situation to Norwegian television crews as “very scary.”
At least 17 passengers were injured and taken to local medical facilities; some were admitted, but most treated and released. NRK (Norwegian public broadcasting) reported that a 90-year-old-man and his 70-year-old spouse were severely injured, although it’s not known if that occurred on the ship or in the evacuation.
In total, more than 479 passengers were lifted into the helicopters, before the process was halted—as the ship regained some propulsion and tug boats were able to escort it to Molde.
Meanwhile, onboard the ship, other passengers and crew hunkered down in corridors and muster stations—awaiting their turn for evacuation. Some (including Sheppard) took to social media to post videos and photos of people sleeping with their life jackets on and the ensuing cleanup while the ship returned to shore.
Most passengers described the crew's approach to assisting guests as exemplary.
Docking in Molde
The nightmare was finally over at 4:30 a.m. Norwegian time on Sunday without the need for further evacuations, when Viking confirmed this welcome news in an official statement.
“The Viking Sky docked in the port of Molde. All passengers and crew are safe and passengers will be flying home starting tonight.”
The line’s statement continued: “Throughout all of this, our first priority was for the safety and well-being of our passengers and our crew. We would like to thank the Norwegian Redningssentral and the Norwegian emergency services for their support and skill displayed in managing the situation in very challenging weather conditions. “
The cruise line also thanked ”the local residents who throughout the whole process have been extremely supportive and hospitable.”
The line said that anyone with questions or concerns about any guests, may call 1-888-889-8837 for guests from the United States and Australia, and 07585-779-853 or 0208-780-7900 for guests booked in the United Kingdom.
Next Sailing Cancelled
Viking has cancelled the ship’s next sailing, “Scandinavia & The Kiel Canal,” originally scheduled to embark guests on March 27. The line said both guests and their travel agents have been contacted directly.
“We do not anticipate any additional cancellations at this time,” Sunday's statement said.
That said, the cause of the propulsion issue has yet to be determined, however, and there is no indication how long it might take to determine that.
Also, on Monday, Norwegian officials said they've opened an investigation into why the Viking ship set sail, despite storm warnings, which forced the major evacuation after a mayday call was issued.
According to an Associated Press story on Monday morning, Dag. S. Lisbeth of Norway's Accident Investigation Board said the high risk to which the ship, its passengers and crew were exposed to made the board to decide to begin a probe.
In addition, AP is also reporting that Yngve Skovly of the police department in Moere and Romsdal district, where Molde is located, says there is no suspicion of a criminal offense, but that his department nevertheless has opened an investigation to find out why the ship had engine issues. His probe would likely be part of the investigation process by the accident board.
Another Propulsion Issue
Another ship, Holland America Line's new 2,666-passenger Nieuw Statendam, also had a propulsion issue over the weekend, but far less serious in nature. It was sailing in the Caribbean.
Weather at the time was good, no guests were evacuated, and propulsion was restored.
Holland America’s statement said: "On March 23 at approximately 6:15 a.m. local time, while Nieuw Statendam was underway from St. Thomas, USVI to Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, the ship experienced a technical issue with one of the diesel generators, causing a short black-out until 6:50 a.m.
"During this time, the ship, and all guests and crew, were completely safe, and in calm water with good weather conditions. Due to the delay and in an abundance of caution, while the cause of the blackout was being addressed, the scheduled port call at Half Moon Cay was cancelled.
"We regret the disappointment this itinerary change caused our guests and compensation has been provided on board. The repair was completed and Nieuw Statendam proceeded to Fort Lauderdale, FL where it arrived on-time on March 24.
CLIA Resource Site
One resource on operational safety of cruise ships is Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) safety at sea site. The site gives operational statistics that show the number of operational incidents is less than in the past, despite significant industry capacity growth.
In addition, it explains how cruise ships are designed with multiple redundancies, inspected regularly and are subject to both U.S. and international maritime law safety regulations.
Stay tuned here as Travel Agent follows the investigation of the Viking Sky incident by Norwegian authorities.