397 people winched from stricken cruise liner

Passengers on board the Viking Sky, wait to be evacuated, off the coast of Norway on Saturday. [Photo, AP]

Rescue services had airlifted 397 people to safety from a luxury cruise liner with engine trouble off the coast of Norway and were preparing to tow the vessel to a nearby port.

The Viking Sky, with 1,373 passengers and crew on board, sent out a mayday signal on Saturday as it drifted towards land in the Norwegian Sea.

The ship was carrying 915 passengers, of whom "a large number" were from the United States and Britain, according to the rescue services.

Some 17 injured passengers had been taken to hospital, a local rescue coordinator told a news conference early yesterday, while others suffered minor cuts and bruises.

One was taken to St. Olav's Hospital in the town of Trondheim, which is central Norway's most advanced medical facility. Others were taken to local hospitals in the region.

"Many have also been traumatised by the experience and need care when they arrive on shore," the Norwegian Red Cross said in a statement.

The airlift had gone on through the night. The ship was able to restart three of its four engines yesterday morning but still needed assistance.

"The evacuation continues at the request of the vessel ... they need tugboats to get to port," rescue service spokesman Per Fjeld said, adding that the plan was to bring the Viking Sky to the town of Molde. Rescue services yesterday begun to attach lines to the ship from tugboats to begin towing it towards the port.

Stormy weather conditions had improved in the early hours of yesterday, with winds blowing at 14 metres per second, down from 24 metres per second previously, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. 

Images and film posted by passengers on social media showed furniture sliding around as the vessel drifted in waves of up to eight metres.

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