Viking Sky’s total loss of engine power ’was very nearly a disaster’ and Norwegian, US and UK authorities are investigating
Investigations are underway into the cause of engine outtages on board a cruise ship that lost power on Saturday (23 March) and was left adrift in heavy seas and high winds off the Norwegian coast, prompting a rescue operation.
Viking Ocean Cruises’ Viking Sky was sailing between Stavanger and Tromsø, Norway, in Hustadvika Bay when the vessel suffered engine failure and relayed a mayday distress signal to Norwegian authorities.
Within minutes of losing power and finding he was unable to start any of the vessel’s four engines, Viking Sky’s captain dropped both anchors. As master pilot Emil Heggelund, who manages the Møre and Trøndelag region for Norway’s Coastal Administration and was advising the vessel’s captain told Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende, even with 270 m in anchor line, the cruise ship drifted for half an hour before the anchors caught just 100 m from shore.
Eventually, the crew managed to get one engine restarted and the ship began to move further out to sea.
“It was very nearly a disaster. The ship drifted to within 100 m of running aground before they were able to restart one of the engines,” police chief Hans Vik, who heads the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre for southern Norway, told Norway’s TV2. “If they had run aground, we would have faced a major disaster.”
Local media reported wind gusts of nearly 70 kph and wave heights over 8 m while the vessel was in Hustadvika Bay.
Major Fredrik Jomaas, who oversaw helicopter airlifts of nearly 500 of Viking Sky’s passengers, was quoted as saying he witnessed waves up to 15 m high as he co-ordinated his squadron of five helicopters in a 19-hour-long rescue effort.
Norway’s Accident Investigations Board (AIBN) and its counterparts in the UK and US are co-operating in an investigation into the technical failure that resulted in the engine’s power loss but have not yet released a statement detailing the cause. Norwegian agencies are also reportedly investigating why the ship set sail in difficult conditions.
Viking Cruises has posted a statement to its website saying that it is undertaking its own investigation into the incident.
"We have already begun our own internal investigation and our goal is to establish a complete and thorough understanding of what happened. We welcome the investigations that have been launched, and will fully support them. Viking Ocean Cruises will not have any further comments until the investigations have been completed," the statement said.
This publication will continue to follow this story and offer further, more detailed reports on the causes of the incident, as they become clear.
Viking Sky has a total installed power of 23,520 kW, provided by two MAN 12V32/44CR and two MAN 9L32/44CR engines. Two Rolls-Royce Promas units, comprising rudder and 4.5-m diameter fixed-pitch propeller, are driven by two 7,250 kW electric propulsion motors.
One question for investigators, and one already being asked by the shipping community on social media, is whether the incident exceeded the casualty threshold for IMO’s Safe Return to Port (SRtP) regulations. Redundancy requirements mean that ship systems including power generation, propulsion and steering – as well as the control and monitoring of these systems – should be arranged so that the vessel can get safely to port even if power is lost in one area due to fire and/or flooding. This is meant to ensure it is impossible to lose all power in an emergencycontained in one area of the ship.
The regulation places challenging design constraints on vessels. In guidance issued in 2016, DNV GL noted “A clear definition of which zones and compartments are dedicated for the redundant systems must be made at an early phase, and the design and arrangement of all relevant systems must be made in accordance with the zone definition.”
However, one naval architect told this publication that severe weather should not endanger the ability of vessels to return to port. Even though the regulation offers only limited protection against loss of power during flooding – this should be enough unless the hull has been breached. “Even before the regulation was implemented in 2010, passenger ships had notations showing propulsion redundancy,” the consultant said.
Viking Sky was delivered in January 2017 and is one of six similar vessels so far built for Viking Cruise Lines by Fincantieri. The sixth in the series, Viking Jupiter, was delivered in February 2019. In a press release, Fincantieri noted that “the Viking units are all built according to the latest navigation regulations and equipped with the most modern safety systems, including safe return to port”.
The vessel did return safely to port, assisted by two tugs, on Sunday (24 March). According to Viking Cruises’ website, Viking Sky docked in the port of Molde, Norway, at 16:30pm local time. Several passengers have reportedly been treated in local hospitals for minor injuries.
Reporting on this story was provided by Gavin Lipsith, Rebecca Moore and Jamey Bergman