| 24.03,19. 12:52 PM |
Race to get passengers airlifted from stranded cruise ship off Norway
Passengers are being airlifted off the stricken cruise ship. (ABC News)
Dozens of holidaymakers have had to be airlifted from a stricken cruise ship which is in danger of being smashed against rocks off the coast of Norway.
Norway's maritime rescue service said the Viking Sky, with about 1,300 passengers and crew on board, sent out a mayday signal as it drifted toward land.
The rescue service said the crew were later able to restart one engine and the ship was at anchor about 2 kilometres off Norway's west coast.
One by one, passengers were hoisted from the deck of the vessel by helicopter and flown to a village just north of the town of Molde.
Norwegian media said the majority of the passengers were British and American tourists.
By 6:00pm some 100 people had been rescued, with the operation continuing through the night.
Norwegian TV said one 90-year-old-man and his 70-year-old wife on the ship were severely injured, but did not say how that happened.
Video and photos from people on the ship showed it heaving from side to side, with chairs and other furniture being thrown around.
Passengers were suited up in orange life vests as the waves broke some of the ship's windows and cold water flowed over the floor.
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 said.
A second vessel, a freighter with a crew of nine, was also being evacuated nearby after suffering engine failure, diverting helicopters and thus delaying the cruise ship airlift, the rescue centre added.
Two purpose-built vessels operated by the Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue had been forced to turn back due to the severe weather, the service said.
Waves were 6-8 metres high, with wind blowing at 24 metres per second, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.
The storm was expected to last at least until midnight local time.
The stretch of water known as Hustadvika and surrounding areas are known for fierce weather and shallow waters dotted with reefs, and Norway is evaluating whether to build a giant ocean tunnel through a nearby mountain to improve safety.
The Viking Sky, built in 2017, belongs to Viking Ocean Cruises, part of the Viking Cruises group founded by Norwegian billionaire Torstein Hagen.
The ship was visiting the Norwegian towns and cities of Narvik, Alta, Tromso, Bodo and Stavanger before its scheduled arrival on Tuesday in the British port of Tilbury on the River Thames.