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Cruise ship carrying 1,300 passengers forced to evacuate off Norway

Hundreds evacuated from cruise ship in Norway

A cruise ship with engine problems sent a mayday call off Norway's western coast on Saturday, then began evacuating its 1,300 passengers and crew amid stormy seas and high winds in a high-risk helicopter rescue operation. The Norwegian newspaper VG said the Viking Sky cruise ship ran into propulsion problems as bad weather hit Norway's coastal regions on Saturday.

Police in the western county of Moere og Romsdal said the ship managed to anchor in Hustadvika Bay, between the western Norwegian cities of Alesund and Trondheim, so the evacuations could take place. 

Rescue teams with helicopters and boats were sent to evacuate the cruise ship under extremely difficult circumstances. 

Norwegian authorities said they were forced to divert two of five helicopters rescuing the crew and passengers to help another ship that experienced a seizure in the storm. They were diverted to assist the nine person crew of the Hagland Captain cargo vessel. Both boats are trying to avoid being dashed on the rocky coast.

Norwegian public broadcaster NRK said the Viking Sky's evacuation was likely to be a slow and dangerous process, as passengers needed to be hoisted from the cruise ship to the five available helicopters one by one. By 6 p.m. local time, some 100 people had been rescued. 

A cruise ship Viking Sky drifts towards land after an engine failure in Hustadvika
A cruise ship Viking Sky drifts towards land after an engine failure, Hustadvika, Norway March 23, 2019.  Frank Einar Vatne/NTB Scanpix/via REUTERS

Authorities told NRK that a strong storm with high waves was preventing rescue workers from using life boats or other vessels in taking passengers ashore.

"It's a demanding exercise, because they (passengers) have to hang in the air under a helicopter and there's a very, very strong wind," witness Odd Roar Lange told NRK at the site.

According to the cruisemapper.com website, the Viking Sky was on a 12-day trip that began March 14 in the western Norwegian city of Bergen. The ship was visiting the Norwegian towns and cities of Narvik, Alta, Tromso, Bodo and Stavanger before its scheduled arrival Tuesday in the British port of Tilbury on the River Thames.

The Viking Sky, a vessel with gross tonnage of 47,800, was delivered in 2017 to operator Viking Ocean Cruises.