Code Echo! Daniel Island resident recalls near disaster on board the 'Viking Sky'
When I signed up for the recent luxury cruise “In Search of the Northern Lights” on the Viking Sky, I had no idea that it would end up being front page news. After 10 days of having fun being wined and dined, exploring the picturesque Norwegian harbor towns and enjoying seeing the elusive Northern lights, disaster struck.
I had just finished taking video footage of the huge breakers and swells through the French doors of the cabin when “Code Echo!” was urgently shouted eight times on the intercom. The ship was listing badly from side to side as I struggled to open my cabin door, and I saw a long line of passengers already being escorted down the stairs. A crew member urged me to leave my cabin. I quickly slipped on my shoes and jacket and grabbed my passport, credit cards, and iPhone. Hanging on to the railing for balance, I joined the throng. Falling and breaking sounds echoed around us as we assembled in our muster point A in the theater.
As we squeezed into tight rows and put on life jackets, everyone was remarkably quiet and calm. We learned that the ship’s four engines had failed and two anchors were preventing us from drifting onto the rocks. The Norwegian coast was about a mile away. A Mayday had been sent out, and all passengers would be airlifted to safety by helicopter. The waves of up to 26 feet at times and the strong winds of up to 45 miles per hour prevented us from using the rescue boats.
The ordeal would last throughout the afternoon, the night and into the next morning. The Viking Sky carried roughly 950 passengers and about 450 crew members. Incredibly, we never lost Wi-Fi and contact with the outside world did a lot for our morale. But, as we saw incoming news reports, we were made more aware of the dire situation we were in.
Inside the theater, we did not have a view of the ocean or where we were. We got some idea of what was going on in other parts of the ship when a group of drenched passengers was brought into our venue, and there was a scramble to find them dry clothes. Water had come pouring in when the wind and waves had blown in a steel door and smashed a window where they were gathered. We also learned that people and furniture were thrown across deck 7, causing multiple injuries. It was a little disconcerting when the watertight doors were locked at one stage.
During the night, the crew got three engines going, stabilizing the ship somewhat. We were then allowed to venture out of the theater into the hallways where we could recharge our phones. By now, the restrooms were a mess due to the ship’s lurching and no flushes working. With a crew member in attendance, we could go up one flight to use the cabins’ facilities.
It was an eerie feeling to see crew members, about once an hour, lead two rows of about 22 passengers, holding on to each other’s life jackets, to the hovering helicopters. Later on, passengers would tell us about being yanked up from a rocking wet deck, swinging through high winds in the pitch dark. Injured passengers were airlifted first. One of the helicopters had been diverted to pick up crew members of a rescue boat who had jumped into the ocean when their craft got into trouble. They were on their way to assist us.
Throughout the long hours, the crew and volunteers were attentive, helpful and encouraging. At first, we could only share a few bottles of water, but later, at odd intervals, they would pass plates of snacks. At one stage, they dragged a few wet bags filled with packets of dry peanuts around for us to dip into!
Finally, in the late morning hours, two large tugboats were roped onto our ship, and we could be tugged away from the coast into safer waters. After a precarious 180 degree turn, and another few long hours, we sailed into the small harbor town of Molde. After 22 hours in a life jacket, it was a relief to get rid of it finally! The captain went around to greet passengers and give a little speech.
The crew cleaned up our cabins, prepared surprise lunch plates, and served dinner in our cabins. That night, the owner of the fleet flew in and after the champagne bottles were opened, the intrepid crew put on a live Beatles extravaganza show for us.
Apparently, given the rough conditions of the sea and low, though acceptable oil levels, an electrical malfunction caused the engines to cut out. Viking immediately refunded us all costs, sent us bouquets of flowers and offered us a free cruise. We have also been invited to join the owner for the maiden voyage of Viking Venus being launched in 2021. Although I have already booked a cruise on the Yangtze River for 2020, I am very grateful to be safe and sound back in Charleston.
For any future cruises, I will keep the following in mind: in an emergency, put on warm clothing, a warm jacket, socks, and sensible shoes, and keep the following items ready to grab: cabin entry card, passport, credit cards and cash, medication, list of medications/allergies and emergency contact numbers, mobile phone and charger, bottle of water, snacks, extra set of dry clothes, socks, T-shirt and pants.
Elsa came to Daniel Island from South Africa in 2002. After teaching music for 10 years at Ashley Hall, she became a part-time piano teacher. She has also been leading small group tours, especially to Africa, since 2008. Elsa published a biography on her dad in 2001 and is also a freelance travel writer and contributor to Shutterstock. See her website: https://travelswithelsa.com/.