Cruise Ship Which Lost Power During Storm ‘Should Have Never Sailed’

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Guests and crew members onboard Viking Sky faced a dangerous situation off the Norwegian coast near Hustadvika in March 2019, marking a day that could have ended in a maritime disaster of unprecedented scale. 

The ship, with 1,374 individuals onboard, experienced a total loss of propulsion and steering amidst a storm, nearly running aground. The incident resulted in an in-depth investigation by Norwegian safety regulators, shedding light on significant safety lapses and technical failures, and concluding the ship should have never set sail from Tromsø.

Critical Moments at Sea

On March 23, 2019, Viking Sky embarked on a 13-night Northern Lights journey from Bergen, Norway, to London, UK. After departure from Tromsø, she encountered severe weather conditions that led to a full blackout, and loss of steering and propulsion, and brought the vessel to a mere ship’s length of running aground on the rocks of the Norwegian coast.

The event prompted a massive rescue operation, with helicopters and coast guard ships deployed to evacuate guests to safety. Despite the challenging conditions, including 38-40 knot winds and high waves, the operation managed to transport 166 guests to land in the initial stages safely. This event marked one of the earliest maritime near-misses to be extensively documented by passengers through video footage.

An investigation by the Norwegian Safety Investigation Authority (NSIA) revealed that the blackout was due to insufficient lubricating oil in the diesel generators’ sump tanks, made worse by the rough sea conditions. Remarkably, it took 39 minutes to restore engines to a minimal operating capacity, allowing the ship to move forward at a slow pace of 1 to 5 knots.

Viking Sky Adrift
Viking Sky Adrift

Despite doing regular drills, the ship’s crew was not well prepared to deal with the specific set of conditions that occurred in 2019. 

Read Also: The 10 Roughest Seas in the World for Cruise Ships

The report states: “The engineers were faced with a situation they were not practiced in managing. The situation was stressful, the control system was complex, and a specific sequence of actions was needed. Insufficient training likely contributed to why the blackout recovery was time-consuming.”

A Voyage Under Risk

Further findings indicated that when Viking Sky departed Tromsø on March 21, 2019, it was already at an increased risk due to one of its four diesel generators being out of service. This lack of redundancy was a direct contravention of the Safe Return to Port regulations, leading investigators to conclude that the ship should not have departed.

Viking Sky Cruise Ship
Viking Sky Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: bernd.brueggemann)

“When Viking Sky left Tromsø 21 March 2019, with one out of four diesel generators unavailable, both crew and passengers were unknowingly exposed to an increased risk as the vessel did not have the redundancy required under the Safe Return to Port (SRtP) regulations.”

“As Viking Sky did not comply with the applicable safety standards, it should not have departed Tromsø under the prevailing circumstances,” the NSIA report states.

Safety Recommendations and Actions

The investigation also criticized the design of the lube oil sump tank, which did not comply with the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations or the recommendations from the engine manufacturer. This flaw in design played a pivotal role in the incident. Due to the inclination of the ship during the storm, lubricating oil could not reach the engines, leading to critical issues.

In light of these findings, NSIA issued 14 safety recommendations aimed at preventing future occurrences. One recommendation called on Fincantieri, the shipbuilder, to review and improve their design processes to ensure compliance with SOLAS regulations and class rules.

Viking Sky Cruise Ship
Viking Sky Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: Bu Luna)

Furthermore, there was a call for Lloyd’s Register to independently verify compliance with critical safety standards. The investigation also emphasized the need for improved training and procedures onboard, including better management of lube oil levels and the implementation of an electronic inclinometer to provide accurate data for safety investigations.

Viking, Fincantieri, and Lloyds aren’t completely to blame for the issue. The SOLAS regulations don’t give clear instructions on how to measure or check for compliance regarding the movement of ships over time. There’s no detailed guideline or standard industry practice for how to apply these SOLAS rules.

The 47,842 gross tons Viking Sky is the third cruise ship in a series of nine that have been released so far and entered service in 2017. She remains a stark reminder of the importance of adherence to maritime safety standards and regulations. 

While it is unclear whether the issues experienced onboard Viking Sky have been remedied on the ships that have been built after 2019, the lessons learned from the Viking Sky incident will undoubtedly contribute to enhancing safety at sea for future voyages.

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