Norway opens probe into why cruise ship ventured into storm

The Viking Sky was headed for southern Norway when it had engine problems on Saturday afternoon

Passengers are helped from a rescue helicopter in Fraena, Norway, Sunday March 24, 2019, after being rescued from the Viking Sky cruise ship. Rescue workers are evacuating more passengers from a cruise ship that had engine problems in bad weather off Norway’s western coast while authorities prepare to tow the vessel to a nearby port. (Svein Ove Ekornesvag/NTB Scanpix via AP)

Norwegian officials have opened an investigation into why a cruise ship carrying more than 1,370 people set sail along the country’s often wild western coast despite storm warnings, forcing a major evacuation by helicopter.

One person is in critical but stable condition in an intensive care ward, hospital officials said, adding that eight others were still hospitalized after the weekend ordeal.

The Viking Sky had left the northern city of Tromsoe and was headed for Stavanger in southern Norway when it had engine problems and issued a mayday call on Saturday afternoon.

The ship anchored in heavy seas to avoid being dashed on the rocks in an area known for shipwrecks. Norwegian authorities then launched a daring rescue operation despite the high winds, eventually winching 479 passengers off the ship by helicopter in an operation that went on for hours Saturday night and into Sunday morning.

READ MORE: 15 Canadians on cruise ship that was stranded off Norway; one injured

Dag S. Liseth of Norway’s Accident Investigations Board said “the high risk which the ship, its passengers and crew were exposed to made us decide to investigate the incident.”

After about half of the ship’s passengers were taken off, the captain made the decision mid-day Sunday to halt the evacuation. About 900 people were still on board when the ship limped into the port city of Molde on its own engines.

Viking Ocean Cruises said Monday it had begun “an internal investigation …. to establish a complete and thorough understanding of what happened,” and welcome the official investigations which they “will fully support.”

In the same statement, Viking Ocean Cruises chairman Torstein Hagen also said he “would like to personally apologize for what our guests experienced.”

Liseth said investigators were heading to Molde on Monday and declined to speculate why the Viking Sky captain had decided to sail to Stavanger in the first place despite the weather warning. He couldn’t immediately say how long the cruise ship would remain in Molde.

Yngve Skovly, of the police force in Moere and Romsdal district, where Molde sits, said there is no suspicion of a criminal offence but police have opened an investigation to find out why the ship had engine problems. That probe would be part of the one by the Accident Investigations Board.

The Viking Sky is a relatively new ship, delivered in 2017 to operator Viking Ocean Cruises.

The ship was on a 12-day cruise along Norway’s coast before its scheduled arrival Tuesday in the British port of Tilbury, on the River Thames. The passengers were mostly an English-speaking mix of American, British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian citizens.

All the cruise ship passengers were expected to be flown out of Norway by Monday evening, police said.

Viking Sky’s next trip, to Scandinavia and Germany, which was to leave on Wednesday, has been cancelled but its owner said no other trip cancellations for the ship were foreseen yet.

Jan M. Olsen, The Associated Press

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Some of the remaining passengers look out as the cruise ship Viking Sky arrives at port off Molde, Norway, Sunday March 24, 2019, after having problems and issuing a Mayday call on Saturday in heavy seas off Norway’s western coast. Rescue helicopters took more than 475 passengers from a cruise ship that got stranded off Norway’s western coast in bad weather before the vessel departed for a nearby port under escort and with nearly 900 people still on board, the ship’s owner said Sunday. (Svein Ove Ekornesvag/NTB scanpix via AP)

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