Published on : Monday, March 25, 2019
Outside, a storm in the rough, frigid waters off Norway’s western coast had surrounded the Britain-bound cruise ship with 26-foot waves and wind gusts of 43 mph.
The ship’s engines had failed — setting the vessel adrift in Hustadvika Bay and toward the rocky shoreline. Plants, a piano and lounge furniture slid across the floor with each tilt of the ship. Ceiling panels fell to the ground, and icy water crashed through broken windows.
The crew threw down an anchor and issued a mayday call. Then the wait began.
For 24 hours, those aboard — American, British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian citizens — endured violent conditions as rescue teams worked to evacuate passengers one by one. Smaller rescue boats weren’t a safe option because of the dangerously high swells, so Norwegian authorities airlifted individual passengers from the ship.
Media reports said Police Chief Hans Vik, who heads the Joint Rescue Coordination Center of Southern Norway, told reporters that the ship drifted within 330 feet of shore before the crew was able to restart one engine.
“If they had run aground, we would have faced a major disaster,” Vik said.
Passenger Rodney Horgen, a Minnesota resident, said he was a weathered fisherman and had never experienced anything like the conditions aboard the Viking Sky.
Horgen said a six-foot wall of water broke through a door and windows and swept fellow passengers, including his wife, Judie Lemieux, 30 feet across the floor.
Horgen said that coming to terms with the force and temperature of the water — and what it would do to a person tossed overboard — was “very, very frightening.”
“You would not last very long,” he said.
The trip was a pilgrimage of sorts for Horgen, who was looking forward to visiting the home of his ancestors.
The cruise was scheduled to pass through the Norwegian towns of Narvik and Bodo, and the cities of Alta, Tromso and Stavanger, before docking in the British port of Tilbury on the River Thames on Tuesday.
Viking Cruises Chairman Torstein Hagen said that the passengers had “a bit of a shocking experience.”
“Most of our passengers are senior citizens. Imagine what it’s like to hang there on that wire,” Hagen said. “It must be a terrible experience, but they seem to have handled it very well.”
The Norwegian Red Cross said even those who weren’t physically harmed have been “traumatis ed by the experience” and required care on shore.
Viking Cruises said in a statement that guests were staying in local hotels and the company was arranging flights for them to return to their home countries.
By 10 a.m. Sunday in Norway, three of the ship’s four engines were working, and the ship, carrying 436 guests and 458 crew members, was on its way to dry land, Viking Ocean Cruises said in a statement. In all, 479 passengers were airlifted, and 20 people suffered injuries and were being treated at hospitals in Norway.
News reports on Monday said that nine were still in the hospital — one in critical condition.
As the ship headed toward Molde, Norway, in calmer seas, Sheppard tweeted a video of dozens of passengers shuffling around those same bright-orange life vests.
On Sunday afternoon, the ship docked in Molde.
Tags: Norwegian cruise ship