TORONTO — It was a cruise to remember but not in the way they expected, as dangerously stormy seas in Norway forced a helicopter evacuation of 479 Viking Sky passengers on Sunday, with hundreds more staying onboard to ride out the pitch and roll of the rough seas.
Now Norwegian officials are investigating why Viking Sky set sail, despite storm warnings.
Viking Sky left Tromsoe and was headed for Stavanger in southern Norway when it ran into trouble. The ship had engine problems off the Norwegian coast and issued a mayday on Saturday afternoon.
Still waiting for evacuation. #VikingSky #Mayday pic.twitter.com/6EvcAjf5D2
— Alexus Sheppard ????️???? (@alexus309) March 23, 2019
The ship anchored to avoid being dashed on the rocks in an area known for shipwrecks. According to reports, waves topped six to eight metres (about 19 to 26 feet).
Norwegian authorities launched a rescue operation despite the high winds and rough seas, eventually evacuating 479 passengers off the ship by helicopter in an operation that went on for hours Saturday night and into Sunday morning.
Viking Sky’s captain made the decision Sunday to halt the evacuation. About 900 people were still on board when the ship came into the port city of Molde on its own engines.
A statement from Viking reports that 20 passengers suffered injuries.
“Throughout all of this, our first priority was for the safety and wellbeing of our passengers and our crew,” says Viking. “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. We would also like to thank the local residents who throughout the whole process have been extremely supportive and hospitable.”
Viking says the next sailing, ‘Scandinavia & the Kiel Canal’ scheduled to embark on March 27, has been cancelled. “Guests and their travel agents have been contacted directly. We do not anticipate any additional cancellations at this time.”
Dag S. Liseth of Norway’s Accident Investigations Board said “the high risk which the ship, its passengers and crew were exposed to made us decide to investigate the incident.”
Liseth said investigators are in Molde today and declined to speculate as to why the Viking Sky captain had decided to sail to Stavanger in the first place despite the weather warning.
Yngve Skovly, of the police force in Moere and Romsdal district, where Molde sits, said there is no suspicion of a criminal offence but police have opened an investigation to find out why the ship had engine problems. That probe would be part of the one by the Accident Investigations Board.
All of the passengers were expected to be flown out of Norway by Monday evening, police said.
Viking Sky is a relatively new ship, delivered in 2017.
The high-profile Viking brand has seen phenomenal growth on its river cruise line sailings in recent years. The company introduced ocean cruises in 2015.
With files from The Associated Press