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Cruise ship off Norway evacuates passengers by helicopter

The Viking Sky was adrift off Norway before dropping anchor in Hustadvika Bay.
The Viking Sky was adrift off Norway before dropping anchor in Hustadvika Bay.(Odd Roar Lange/NTB scanpix via AP)

HELSINKI — A cruise ship with engine problems sent a mayday call off Norway’s western coast on Saturday, then began evacuating its 1,300 passengers and crew amid stormy seas and heavy winds in a high-risk helicopter rescue operation.

The Norwegian newspaper VG said the Viking Sky cruise ship ran into propulsion problems as bad weather hit Norway’s coastal regions on Saturday and started drifting toward land. Police in the western county of Moere og Romsdal said the ship’s crew, fearing it would run aground, managed to drop anchor in Hustadvika Bay, between the western Norwegian cities of Alesund and Trondheim, so the evacuations could take place.

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Rescue teams with helicopters and boats were sent to evacuate the cruise ship under extremely difficult circumstances.

The ship was visiting the Norwegian towns and cities of Narvik, Alta, Tromso, Bodo and Stavanger before its scheduled arrival Tuesday in the British port of Tilbury on the River Thames. The passengers mostly were a mix of American, British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian citizens.

The airlifts continued at a steady pace Sunday morning, as the vessel was being prepared for towing by two tugboats to the nearby town of Molde, according to Per Fjerd at the Joint Rescue Coordination Center.

The helicopters stopped taking people off the ship when the ship was ready for the trip to shore, and 463 passengers had been evacuated by that time, the Joint Rescue center said. Three of the ship’s four engines were working as of Sunday morning, the center said.