Difficult mass evacuation from Norway cruise ship: "It was like the Titanic"
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A cruise ship that was nearly shipwrecked in heavy sea off the coast of Norway found themselves involved in a dramatic and complicated marine rescue operation by helicopter in heavy wind.
The cruise ship was very close to a serious accident last weekend on Saturday the 23 of March, when the ship lost power on all of its engines and started drifting towards shallow waters in very heavy sea.
The waves were as high as 15 meters or more, and rescue vessels in the area had to turn around due to the bad weather, unable to help.
Eventually, the rescue efforts had to resort to evacuating passengers one by one, with the help of helicopters, which was also made difficult by the heavy winds and waves.
"We were in the restaurant when a really big wave came and crushed a door and flooded the entire restaurant. All I saw was legs, arms, water and tables. It was like the Titanic", said Carolyn Savikas from the US to the Norwegian newspaper VG.
Viking Sky sent out an emergency message shortly after 2 pm on Saturday afternoon and asked for assistance after experiencing engine problems. The waves were up to 15 meters high, and a difficult rescue operation was initiated.
Throughout the night, people were evacuated in helicopters flying in non stop "shuttle traffic" between to ship and the emergency center set up on shore.
In total, 479 of the 1 373 persons on board were taken ashore by helicopter, according to the news agency NTB.
Three out of four engines on the ship could eventually be started during Sunday morning, and the cruise ship - Viking Sky - could transport itself, with the help of tug boats, to the harbor in the Norwegian coastal town of Molde.
An emergency center was set up by the Red Cross to help.
On video clips tables and chairs can be seen flying around on the cruise ship as it was batted around by the waves. Water could also be seen flowing around the passengers inside the ship.
In total, 20 people were injured, according to NTB.
"Suddenly my wife was just gone"´
According to Rodney Horgen, one of the evacuated, the 24 hours during the worst part of the storm were extremely frightening.
"The best word to describe it is surreal. We sat in the restaurant when the ship started to roll heavily from side to side. People fell and table tops slipped on the floor", he said to Norwegian Television, NRK.
He described how a window or a door was torn off its hinges and a several meter high wave struck the room where passengers were waiting for evacuation. The pressure from the water made 20-30 people loose their balance and they were struck to the floor and pushed further in to the hull of the boat.
"My wife was sitting right in front of me and suddenly she was gone. Then I thought: This is the end", he continued.
Close to being stranded on the ocean floor
During Saturday, in the thick of the storm and when none of Viking Sky's engines worked, the vessel was allegedly 100 meters from hitting the ocean floor, according to local sea pilots. The crew struggled for more than half an hour to anchor the ship.
"They were very close to being stranded at sea. It was probably not a fun experience to be aboard the ship during that time", said Emil Heggelund, operational manager for the pilots, to local Norwegian paper Bergen´s Tidene.
"The vessel was two kilometers from land when the crew managed to get the anchors fixed. However, the area is known to be full of sharp rocks and shallow areas", said Einar Knutsen at the HRS rescue center, to Swedish news agency TT.
Rescue crew had to jump into the ocean to save themselves
A cargo ship with nine men in the crew who was in place to assist in the rescue work also had a fatal motor failure during the evening. In order to be evacuated, the crew was instructed to jump into the sea in order to be picked up by rescue helicopters. All nine were saved from the water.
Several smaller rescue boats were forced to turn back due to the high waves.
On board Viking Sky there were 915 passengers and 458 crew members, according to the company. The vessel was on its way along the Norwegian coast from Tromsø to Stavanger.
The shipping company Viking Ocean Cruises announced that they would cancel their next cruise, which would have started on March 27.
Cover Photo (Above) Viking Sky seen battling the waves just a short distance off the coast of Norway. Screen dump from the video above by The Score YouTube station.