A luxury cruise ship that got stranded off the western coast of Norway after its engine failed during a storm made it back to port on Sunday.
The Viking Sky sent out a mayday signal on Saturday as it drifted towards land, said the country’s maritime rescue service.
Nearly 500 people had been airlifted from the cruise ship but hundreds were still onboard the ship on Sunday morning while rescue services began towing it back to a port in the western town of Molde.
The Viking Sky is a 47,800-tonne ship which was travelling from Tromsø to Stavanger, carrying 915 guests and 458 crew when it experienced a loss of engine power amidst a storm.
Among the 1,373 passengers and crew on board, 479 were evacuated and airlifted to a village located to the north of the town of Molde. A lot of the passengers came from the United States and the UK but also from Canada and Australia among others, said the cruise company.
Twenty passengers were hospitalised, while others suffered minor injuries, said Viking Cruises.
The Norwegian Red Cross said that many are suffering from trauma and will need care back on land.
Once airlifted, police say the passengers who were not hospitalised were transported to the indoor sports facility Brynhallen in the Fræna municipality. After registration, they were received at hotels in Molde and Kristiansund where the emergency authorities have established evacuee centres.
Police chief Hans Vik who heads the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre for southern Norway told local media that the ship avoided a “major disaster”.
“The ship drifted to within 100 metres of running aground before they were able to restart one of the engines,” said Vik.
“If they had run aground we would have faced a major disaster.”
The founder and chairman of Viking Cruises, Norwegian billionaire Torstein Hagen met some of the passengers who had been airlifted.
“They’ve had a bit of a shocking experience,” Hagen told Norwegian TV2.
“Most of our passengers are senior citizens … imagine what it’s like to hang there on that wire. It must be a terrible experience but they seem to have handled it very well,” Hagen said.
Stormy weather conditions had improved in the early hours of Sunday, with winds blowing at 14 meters per second, down from 24 meters per second previously, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. The wind speeds are expected to fall further during Sunday, a day after the vessel clashed with waves six to eight metres high.
The stretch of water known as Hustadvika is known for its bad weather and shallow waters with reefs. The Norwegian government is considering building a giant ocean tunnel through a nearby mountain to improve safety.