Passengers airlifted from cruise ship stranded off Norway

 Passengers airlifted from cruise ship stranded off Norway

By Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche

OSLO (Reuters) - Rescue helicopters were evacuating people from a cruise ship which suffered engine failure on Saturday in stormy weather off the west coast of Norway, police and rescue workers said.

The maritime rescue service said the Viking Sky, with about 1,300 passengers and crew on board, had sent out a mayday signal as it had been drifting towards land.

The crew were later able to restart one engine and the ship was at anchor about 2 km from land.

Passengers were hoisted one-by-one from the deck of the vessel and airlifted to a village just north of the town of Molde on Norway's west coast. About 100 people had been evacuated by 1530 GMT, police said.

"If we need to evacuate everyone, it will take a long time," rescue service spokesman Einar Knudsen told Reuters.

Two purpose-built vessels operated by the Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue had been forced to turn back due to the severe weather, the service said.

Waves were 6-8 metres high, with wind blowing at 24 metres per second, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. The storm is expected to last at least until midnight local time (2300 GMT).

The stretch of water known as Hustadvika is known for its fierce weather and shallow waters are dotted with reefs. The Norwegian government is evaluating whether to build a giant ocean tunnel through a nearby mountain to improve safety.

The Viking Sky, built in 2017, belongs to Viking Ocean Cruises, part of the Viking Cruises group founded by Norwegian billionaire Torstein Hagen. According to the company's website, its passenger capacity is 930.

Several vessels and four helicopters took part in the rescue and facilities to receive passengers have been set up on land, the rescue service said.

All search and rescue teams in the region are mobilising, including 60 volunteers from the Norwegian Red Cross, a spokesman said.

Viking's operational headquarters, located in Basel, Switzerland, did not respond when contacted by telephone.

(Additional reporting by Stine Jacobsen; Editing by Alexander Smith and Angus MacSwan)

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Updated Date: Mar 24, 2019 00:07:16 IST