Viking Sky cruise ship stranded off Norway towed to shore as ‘traumatised’ passengers hospitalised

Traumatised passengers on board a cruise ship engulfed by a massive storm have recalled the announcement that filled them with fear. Traumatised passengers on board the Viking Sky have told of their terror aboard the cruise liner as it was battered by a massive storm off the coast of Norway.

Speaking to, Australian passenger Stephen Medcalf — who was on his first cruise experience with wife Judith — said the trip started to take a turn for the worst while at sea on the Saturday night.

“We were quite comfortable, but we heard reports of people falling out of bed because of the rougher conditions,” he explained.

“On the Saturday morning, the weather really started to deteriorate. Chairs and potplants were falling everywhere, and the swell started getting bigger and bigger.

“At 1.30pm, Judith and I went to lunch, and then at 2pm, the engines failed and lost power. That’s when the ship turned in to the swell and was rolling 45 degrees. There were chairs, glasses and wine bottles flying everywhere.”

Mr Medcalf, who travelled with his wife from the Sunshine Coast to go on the cruise, said they were evacuated from the cafe area on level seven and told to go to their state rooms by crew members.

Feeling calm, it wasn’t until the captain made an announcement about the ship that made Mr Metcalf “nervous”.

Passengers on-board the cruise ship Viking Sky prepared for the worst. Picture: Alexis Sheppard/HO

“When the emergency signal was given and everyone had to put on their life jackets, the captain made another announcement that made me a little nervous,” he said.

“He came on the loudspeaker and called out a mayday, and put out emergency advice that he wanted to evacuate the whole ship.

“But the key words that worried me were when he said ‘close all water tight doors.’ That was a key indicator that we were in for big trouble. That made us feel a little tense.”

With 1373 passengers and crew on board, the ship was hit by 26ft waves and 50km/h gusts of wind while at sea, running in to trouble on day eight of the 12-day “In Search of the Northern Lights” cruise.

At least 20 tourists were injured, requiring hospitalisation, and 480 were winched to safety by helicopter.

Passengers described conditions as comparable to “being on the Titanic” and feared they would drown as the ship was tossed around the Norwegian Sea.

Dramatic footage showed furniture sliding around the deck, chairs falling over and debris falling from ceilings as the liner drifted within 100 metres of underwater rocks near the town of Alesund on Norway’s west coast.

One huge wave broke the window of a door leading from a restaurant on to the deck, causing water to flood in and soak passengers. Among those injured on board were a 70-year-old woman and 90-year-old man who suffered fractured limbs.

The captain of the Viking Cruises liner issued a mayday call and declared a full-scale emergency after losing three of his four engines in terrible conditions at 2pm on Saturday.

Reports suggested crew attempted to ready lifeboats for an evacuation, but the huge waves made it impossible.

Instead the coastguard was called in and rescue helicopters spent much of Saturday night and early yesterday morning airlifting passengers in ones and twos.

But following the rescue and subsequent docking of the ship, experts are questioning why the captain continued the voyage and sail when many Norwegian ferry operators had stayed in port because the weather forecast had warned of gale force winds and rough seas.

In an interview with the Daily MailDavis, from Manchester, who waited ten hours to be rescued with wife Barbara, said: “Locals told us they were amazed that we sailed into the teeth of a storm they knew was coming,” he said.

The two-year-old Viking Sky had sailed from Tromso in Arctic Norway on Thursday night and was thought to be sailing straight to Stavanger — missing out a planned call in Bodo in the north of the country. The cruise had started in Bergen on March 14 and was to end her journey at Tilbury, Essex, on Tuesday.

The ship was in a shallow stretch of water known as Hustadvika, which is renowned for its fierce weather, when the storm hit. meteorologist Ryan Maue tweeted evacuated passengers were “lucky”.

“The ship sailed in worst possible area ‘bomb cyclone’ storm,” he wrote.

“Hurricane force winds and maximum wave height of 60 — 80 feet (18m — 24m).”

According to Fox News, a ‘bomb cyclone’ or ‘bombogenesis’ means a storm is expected to rapidly intensify, dropping 24 millibars (or atmospheric pressure) over a 24-hour span. A typical range in millibars is around 10 to 15.

Basically, the popular term is used by meteorologists to refer to a rapidly intensifying area of low pressure. A decrease in pressure intensifies the power of the storm, and can be tropical or non-tropical.

“The term bombogenesis comes from the merging of two words: bomb and cyclogenesis. All storms are cyclones, and genesis means the creation or beginning,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said in a blog post.

“In this case, bomb refers to explosive development. Altogether the term means explosive storm strengthening.”

Maritime lawyer and cruise liner expert Jim Walker also questioned why the ship ventured in to the storm, considering how many people were on board.

“The central question remains why did Viking take their guests into such a storm?” Mr Walker told the Daily Mail.

“This part of the world is well known to be the graveyard of many ships.

“This was a very dangerous voyage that the Viking Sky went on in rough weather in an area well known to have very, very little room for error. The Norwegian press reported that Norwegian ferries did not try and sail in this weather but the Viking cruise ship did anyway. That’s a big concern.”

Olav Stromsholme, who captains diving boats in the area, told The Times it was the “the most dangerous coast in all Norway”.

But when Viking Cruises chairman Torstein Hagen was questioned asked why the cruise ship ventured into an area known for its rough waters in the middle of a storm that had been forecast by meteorologists, Knudsen, from Norway’s rescue service, said it was the captain’s decision to proceed with the cruise.

According to The Independent, the shipping forecast for the planned voyage was for “gale-force winds and very rough seas”.

The captain declared a mayday at 2pm on Saturday afternoon, 23 March, after the cruise ship “experienced a loss of engine power off the coast of Norway near Molde”.

The captain was unable to make progress or steer, causing the ship to be hit by extreme waves. It was then that an emergency was declared.

Denise and Michael Tozer, both 64, of Hertfordshire in the UK, told the Daily Mailthey were among the first 100 to be flown to safety.

“We were sitting there and it was rocking, we could hear the bulk doors being shut and no engine, we really thought our time had come,” Mrs Tozer said, who she was on the seventh deck, close to the ship’s swimming pool, when she was knocked over and required stitches.

“We could tell we were very close to the rocks because we could see them. (The ship) just went — chairs, tables, crockery, big pot plants smashed in front of me, I went with those.

“We were frightened we would fall out of the window into the sea. Thoughts go through your head about what could have happened, but we were lucky.”

On Sunday, the crew managed to restart another engine allowing the ship to dock in Molde, 330 miles northwest of Oslo, with 900 passengers and crew on board.

Passengers, who paid around £4,000 (AU$7500) each for the cruise, were yesterday being offered counselling services at makeshift evacuation centres in the town.

Viking Cruises is owned by Norwegian billionaire Torstein Hagen, who visited injured passengers in hospital yesterday. Many are likely to mount compensation claims.

“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.,” Mr Hagan said.

A Viking spokesman thanked the emergency services, adding: “Throughout all this, our first priority was for the safety and wellbeing of our passengers and our crew.”

The passengers were mostly an English-speaking mix of American, British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian citizens.

The Viking Oceans Cruise company said the ship’s next scheduled trip, to Scandinavia and Germany that was to leave on Wednesday, was cancelled. Norway’s Accident Investigations Board said the ship would remain in Molde, pending an investigation.

Mr Metcalf, who was winched to safety along with his wife at 3.30am on Sunday morning, said staff couldn’t have been more supportive or thorough during the ordeal.

“From the captain down to the crew, everyone remained really calm,” he said.

“The captain gave us constant updates, and stayed on the bridge for 36 hours and giving us updates every 30 minutes.