Hundreds of passengers aboard a Viking Ocean Cruises ship experienced a dramatic rescue by helicopter, with several later hospitalized, when the Viking Sky suffered engine failure in the middle of incredibly stormy seas. Passengers told reporters about their harrowing ordeals, either of being airlifted off the listing ship in the darkness or remaining onboard and praying the vessel did not sink. Officials are now questioning why the ship was in the sea at all, given warnings about stormy weather, and how multiple engines failed at the same time.
Given the number of people onboard the Viking Sky when its engines failed, it is incredibly lucky that there were not more severe injuries, a common concern in boating accidents.
What Happened on the Viking Sky?
On March 14, the Viking Sky cruise ship began a 12-day voyage from the city of Bergen, in Norway. After it left the city of Tromso, on its way to Stavanger, the ship's four engines shut down as the vessel encountered a massive storm with wind gusts of up to 43 miles per hour and waves that reached almost 30 feet.
On Saturday, Mar. 23, as the difficulties began, the crew put out anchors hoping to stop the ship from smashing onto nearby rocks. Crew members issued a mayday call and passengers mustered in the ship's restaurant to await rescue. The ship was surrounded by massive waves, which made any rescue by smaller boat impossible. Instead, five helicopters were sent to airlift passengers off the ship and onto the shore. Air rescuers worked throughout Saturday night and part of Sunday to airlift as many passengers as possible before the ship's crew got the engines running again.
In all, 479 passengers were airlifted by helicopter—20 people per helicopter at a time—while other passengers were given life jackets to keep them safe. Tug boats were sent to the ship to assist it in making its way to port in Molde once its engines were running again, where the remaining 436 passengers and the 458 crew members were finally able to get off the vessel.
Scary footage from aboard the Viking Sky cruise ship that issued a mayday call Saturday. Those onboard have since been evacuated, with two people severely injured.pic.twitter.com/Y2iD4bZ0hc— ABC 7 News - WJLA (@ABC7News) March 23, 2019
Following the rescue, 36 people received treatment at local hospitals, with one person in critical but stable condition. As of March 25, nine people remained in the hospital. Some passengers who did not suffer physical harm in the ordeal reported emotional trauma and received care when they reached the shore.
At one point, according to reports, the ship was within 330 feet of crashing onto the rocky shore, which could have created a disaster.
After an engine failure and major evacuation efforts, the Viking Sky cruise ship safely docked in the port of Molde, Norway, on Sunday, bringing a high-seas nightmare to an end. https://t.co/OlA8Vta7q4 pic.twitter.com/0Rqsg7Bqoy— ABC News (@ABC) March 24, 2019
Why Did the Vessel leave Port?
Norwegian officials are looking into why the captain decided to set sail, given warnings about stormy weather. So far, investigators have said they do not know why the captain made the decision to leave port.
On Mar. 27, 2019, the Norwegian Maritime Authority—the agency tasked with investigating the Viking Sky incident—said its investigation found that the ship had low oil levels, which resulted in the engine failure. The authority said that those low oil levels directly caused the engine failure and that although the low levels were within proper limits, when the ship hit rocky seas the oil shifted, setting off alarms. When the alarms went off, the engines automatically shut down.
Viking Ocean Cruises said it would revise its procedures to ensure this situation does not happen again.
Passengers Describe Terror on the Viking Sky
More than 600 Americans were on the cruise, which also included a mix of Canadian, British, New Zealand, and Australian citizens. Passengers and crew members described the ship taking on water and furniture being flung around as the ship listed.
"We were in the restaurant when a really huge wave came and shattered a door and flooded the entire restaurant," said Carolyn Savikas, a passenger from Pennsylvania. "All I saw were bones, arms, water and tables. It was like the Titanic—just like the pictures you have seen from the Titanic."
An anonymous crew member said that even though the crew was trained for emergencies, he phoned his family to say good-bye to them, thinking the ship was about to sink.
"We saw a wave that covered the entire ship, and it broke through the glass door," one passenger said. "We got ocean in our mouth. We thought that was it."
Passengers who were rescued by helicopter described a harrowing experience in heavy winds, surrounded by high waves and darkness.
Viking Sky was Delivered in 2017
Viking Cruises started in 1997 as Viking River Cruises, with the ocean division first setting sail in 2015. The Viking Sky ship is part of the Viking Ocean fleet, which has six identical vessels that carry up to 930 passengers. Counting passengers and crew, Viking Sky had 1,373 people onboard when the engine failed.
Though there were no fatalities in this incident, travelers have expressed concern about cruise ship safety. Some have since canceled their cruises while others say they will wait to see what the investigation uncovers.