Evacuating the Ship
When the story on the news is happening to you
By Anne Klein

The photos in the news were rather alarming: passengers were being airlifted from a cruise ship by helicopter, as the winds rocked the enormous ship from side to side.

A ship with Viking Cruises had lost power, leaving almost 1,400 passengers and crew stranded off the coast of Norway. Helicopters flew in to evacuate less than half of the people, while the remaining passengers and crew stayed onboard. Mount Laurel’s Anne and Jerry Klein were there, taking their 6th cruise with Viking. When she returned home, Anne emailed this update to friends.

We embarked on the Viking Sky to take a cruise “In Search of the Northern Lights” in March. Given the unpredictability of the lights, we were happy we saw them on a drive into Finland, and on the sports deck of the ship.  

The Viking Ocean cruise line began just four years ago, and the Viking Sky was launched just two years ago. Viking appeals to older, well-traveled individuals, so no one appeared concerned when we hit rough seas off Norway. In mid-morning, our ship’s captain reported to us that our next port had been closed, so he planned to journey on to our next port of call. I love days at sea; I use the time for a massage, the hot tub and chillin’.  

We were just finishing lunch about

2 pm on Saturday when the ship started to roll from side to side. Glasses fell off the tables. Soda cans spilled from the carts, and dishes began to crash and break. Having had a small power boat for 35 years, we were unconcerned. We were accustomed to heavy seas.

We finished lunch, had some polite conversation with the woman next to us, then returned to our suite using the elevators. I did not see the lights flicker but my husband did, and then the green escape lights turned on. No word came over the PA system, so we returned to our cabin to find our two cabin stewards picking up items that had fallen. They directed us to go to our bedroom and close the door.

At that point (about 2:15 pm), the emergency signal was sounded, and the captain advised us over the PA system this was NOT a drill. We were to report to our muster stations. We took nothing with us, although my husband had his cell phone. We walked down the stairs – no elevators – and everyone was quite calm, except for one woman who was with a crew officer; she was wimpering.  

When we arrived at our muster station on the second deck – the Star Theater – we were instructed to put on our life vests. Our captain said we had lost all the engine power, and he had declared a “Mayday.” He said there were three helicopters on their way to evacuate passengers, and we were waiting for large tugboats to help us get into a port. I had a fleeting thought: “I hadn’t planned on dying this way.”   

The crew was exceptional in their ability to keep everyone calm and happy. We sat only on sofas that were connected to the floor; not on any swivel chairs that might tip over.  

I had to go to the bathroom, so a crew member came with me. Only two of the three toilets in the nearest ladies’ room were operational.  

Eventually, the two stopped working because the power was out. We held our noses when we had to use them. One of the entertainers allowed us to use the dressing room toilet at the front of the theater. That toilet worked for a while, until passengers had made such a mess that the toilet smelled badly.  

Meanwhile, two firefighters who were EMTs, an Army soldier, a police officer and a physician – all passengers – began to assist anyone who needed help. They were wonderful. The physician even took a bucket and rag, and washed out the dressing room bathroom, returning the toilet to normal operation once the power was restored. 

The crew made sure everyone had water and served all the pies and cakes they had, plus apples. For dinner, the crew distributed ham sandwiches and bread for passengers who were not feeling well.  

The Captain briefed us every 30 minutes, then every 15 minutes. He said he had dropped anchor to keep us from drifting and tossing about. He turned the bow into the wind, which every sailor knows is the correct procedure to take. 

A wonderful woman (from England) sitting next to me in the theater had her iPad with her and she was reading Facebook, Twitter and news reports. Those reports were not factual. Our ship was not filling with water, and passengers were not panicked or trying to get off the ship.     

We saw a woman (from England) the next day who said she was concerned about the young crew, and she wanted them to be evacuated first. We later learned that the sick and the injured were evacuated first. Then the most elderly people who wanted to get off.  

Our small group in the front of the theater did not want to be evacuated by helicopter. With the winds and the storm, we felt it was safer on an anchored ship.  

After 24 hours, only half of the 930 passengers had been evacuated. Each helicopter, we were told, could take only 14 passengers at a time, with each passenger being hoisted individually. We learned that the scariest part of the ordeal was the helicopter hoist and travel back to port. The engineer on board the ship did get three of the four engines working. 

Two rumors we heard said the captain lost one anchor and the rope/cable was frayed. We didn’t hear that. The first news reports noted five people were taken to the hospital. This number grew to 30+. Who knows? I guess if you were hit by a piece of furniture, you could have been injured. We had none of those experiences.   

Another news report quoted a Twitter feed of a woman who said, “The penthouse suite guests were tucked safely and warmly in the theater.” Not true. Passengers from every level of the ship were in the theater, as it was their pre-assigned muster station.

We wore life jackets for about 23 hours. After about 25 hours, we were permitted to return to our cabins. We have no idea how the chefs and the servers did it, but a full lunch (on plastic plates) was served 20 hours into wearing our life jackets, and a full dinner (on China) was delivered between 5 and 6 pm on the following day, after we had returned to our cabins. 

Once we made it into port, we were given the option of sleeping in our cabins or going to a hotel. Most of the passengers remained on board the ship.   

Much to our amazement, the Viking Band and the entertainers put on a full Beatles tribute show at 7:30 pm in the theater. We were served champagne as part of the Captain’s Farewell party, and we were thrilled that Mr. Torstein Hagen, the owner of Viking Cruises, came to thank the passengers for being so understanding, patient and cooperative. He announced that he was refunding everyone’s cruise fare, optional tour prices paid, plus offered another complementary Viking cruise. (My husband and I have three more cruises booked, including an ocean cruise to South America, so we can take advantage of the new offer.)  

When the captain was introduced, he introduced members of the crew, and the passengers gave them a standing ovation, with whistling and loud applause. A gentleman from Ireland began a “HIP, HIP, HOORAY” to which all the passengers chimed in. What a moment!  

Two days later, while we were in London, we heard that the cause of the engine failure had been determined. The extreme pitching and rolling of the ship had prevented enough lubricating fluid from getting to the engines, and they shut off (as designed).   

We are now home, safe and sound and looking forward to our Viking Ocean Cruise to South America next year.   

May 2019
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