OSLO: A cruise liner that ran into trouble in stormy seas off Norway reached port under its own steam on Sunday after hundreds of passengers were winched to safety by helicopter in a spectacular rescue operation.
Escorted by tugboats, the Viking Sky arrived in the port of Molde at around 4:15 pm (1515 GMT), television images showed. Nearly a third of its 1,373 passengers and crew had already been airlifted off the ship. The cruise liner lost power and started drifting on Saturday afternoon two kilometres (1.2 miles) off a stretch of Norwegian coastline notorious for shipwrecks.
The captain sent out a Mayday prompting authorities to launch the airlift in difficult conditions rather than run the risk of leaving people on board. Some 460 of the 1,373 people on the ship had been taken off by five helicopters before the airlift was halted.
Police said 17 people had been taken to hospital. One person more than 90 years old and two 70-year-olds suffered serious fractures. With three of four engines restarted on Sunday, two tugs towed the vessel away from dangerous reefs before it set sail for Molde, 500 kilometres (300 miles) northwest of Oslo, under its own power.
Dramatic footage of the passengers’ ordeal showed furniture and plants sliding around the lurching vessel as parts of the ceiling came down. Dozens of passengers wearing life jackets were seen seated waiting to get off the ship.
The ship was sailing south from Tromso to Stavanger when engine trouble struck mid-afternoon on Saturday in an area off More og Romsdal that has claimed many vessels. A reception centre was set up in a gym on shore for the evacuees, many of whom were elderly and from the United States and Britain.
The area where the ship got into problems, known as Hustadvika, is notoriously difficult to navigate. The shallow, 10 nautical mile section of coastline is dotted with small islands and reefs.