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'It was just chaos': Rescued passengers describe ordeal on foundering Norwegian cruise ship

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Video of passengers on board show the ship heaving, with chairs and other furniture dangerously rolling from side to side.

Rescue workers off Norway's western coast are evacuating 1,300 passengers and crew from a disabled cruise ship by helicopter, winching them one-by-one to safety as heaving waves tossed the ship from side to side and high winds battered the operation.

The Viking Sky issued a mayday call as bad weather hit and engine problems caused it to start drifting toward the rocky shore, the Norwegian newspaper VG reported on Saturday.

Police in the western county of Moere og Romsdal said the crew, fearing the ship would run aground, managed to anchor in Hustadvika Bay, between the Norwegian cities of Alesund and Trondheim, so the evacuations could take place.

Rescue teams with helicopters and boats were sent to evacuate the cruise ship under extremely difficult circumstances, including gusts up to 38 knots and waves over eight metres. The area is known for its rough, frigid waters.

Norwegian public broadcaster NRK said the Viking Sky's evacuation was a slow and dangerous process, as passengers needed to be hoisted one-by-one from the cruise ship to the five available helicopters.

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Cruise ship off Norway issues mayday
Cruise ship off Norway issues mayday

Cruise passengers described the moment when the ship's engines stopped, and the evacuation that followed.

"We were having lunch when it began to shake. Window panes were broken and water came in. It was just chaos. The trip on the helicopter, I would rather forget. It was not fun," American passenger John Curry told public broadcaster NRK.

"I was afraid. I've never experienced anything so scary," Janet Jacob, among the first group of passengers evacuated to the nearby town of Molde, told NRK.

She said her helicopter ride to safety came amid strong winds "like a tornado," prompting her to pray "for the safety of all aboard."

The majority of the cruise ship passengers were reportedly British and American tourists. About 180 have been evacuated so far, according to rescue officials.

Per Fjeld of the Joint Rescue Center Southern Norway said there is no danger to the remaining passengers and the airlift can accommodate all of them. He said the rescue will speed up when there is better light and the weather improves.

Video and photos from people on the ship showed it heaving, with chairs and other furniture dangerously rolling from side to side. Passengers were suited up in orange life vests but the waves broke some ship windows and cold water flowed over the feet of some passengers.

Norway cruise ship Viking Sky
Stranded passengers rescued by helicopter from the Norwegian cruise ship.
AAP

American passenger John Curry told NRK that he was having lunch as the cruise ship started to shake.

"It was just chaos. The helicopter ride from the ship to shore I would rather not think about. It wasn't nice," Curry told the broadcaster.

NRK said one 90-year-old-man and his 70-year-old spouse on the ship were severely injured but did not say how that happened.

Later, reports emerged that a cargo ship with nine crew members was in trouble nearby, and the local Norwegian rescue service diverted two of the five helicopters working on the cruise ship to that rescue.

Cruise ship Viking Sky.
Cruise ship Viking Sky.
AAP

Authorities told NRK that a strong storm with high waves was preventing rescue workers from using life boats or tug boats to take passengers ashore.

Norwegian authorities said late Saturday that the evacuation of the Viking Sky would proceed all through the night into Sunday.

The Viking Sky was on a 12-day trip that began March 14 in the western Norwegian city of Bergen, according to the cruisemapper.com website.

Cruise ship Viking Sky experienced an engine failure in windy conditions off the west coast of Norway.
Cruise ship Viking Sky experienced an engine failure in windy conditions off the west coast of Norway.
AAP

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