A cruise ship has sent a Mayday signal to Norwegian coastal services after engine failure in rough seas off the west coast of Norway.
Norway’s sea rescue agency reported that the ship sent out a distress signal and had begun listing and drifting in strong winds and high waves.
The ship is stranded in an area known as one of the most dangerous stretches of Norway’s coast.
Emergency services said on Saturday they were airlifting 1300 passengers off cruise ship The Viking Sky, which sent an SOS message due to “engine problems in bad weather”, southern Norway’s rescue agency said on Twitter.
As the drama unfolded, passengers tweeted frightening footage of the chaos on board.
According to the rescue centre, which is reporting on the evacuation via Twitter, five helicopters and a number of smaller ships have been dispatched to evacuate the stranded passengers on-board the cruise ship in a race against time before the ship runs aground on the rocky shore.
Rescue services are working to get the ship’s engine running. The ship is thought to have suffered engine failure in rough conditions at sea.
The crew managed to restart one of the engines and drop anchor but authorities decided it was too risky for those on board to remain.
Five helicopters were scrambled along with coastguard and other rescue vessels.
Helicopters are shuttling in a relay effort to transport around 10 passengers to shore per trip as rescuers battle waves as high as 25 feet.
“I have never seen anything so frightening,” said one of the passengers who was rescued, Janet Jacob.
“I started to pray. I prayed for the safety of everyone on board,” she told the NRK television channel.
Norwegian newspaper VG said the Viking Sky cruise ship ran into propulsion problems as strong winds and heavy seas hit Norway’s coastal regions Saturday.
Police told the newspaper that winds were blowing at 38 knots, which could further push the ship off its mooring and onto the shore which is located only 4.6km from the shore.
Police said on Saturday the ship had managed to moor in Hustadsvika Bay, between the western Norwegian cities of Alesund and Trondheim.
The rescue effort with helicopters and boats is expected to take several hours.
The Viking Sky was delivered in 2017 to operator Viking Ocean Cruises and had its maiden voyage in the same year.
A reception centre has been set up in a gym on shore to accommodate the evacuees, whose nationalities are not yet known.
Another vessel had been despatched to try to tow the Viking Sky into port, possibly removing the need for the airlift.
By 4:30 pm (12:30 AM Sunday, AEST) 100 people had been evacuated, with each helicopter able to take 15-20 people per airlift.
“It will take time to evacuate everyone,” Andre Franck, head of police operations said.
“The boat is stable. It has dropped anchor and one of its engines is working,” said a rescue centre spokesman, Borghild Eldoen.
“For the moment everything appears to be going well,” added another spokesman, Einar Knutsen, although the rescue centre said eight people had suffered minor injuries.