After Viking cruise ship rescue, passengers concerned about cruising safety

Julia Thompson and David Oliver

Travelers are voicing concerns over cruise-ship safety after a Viking Cruises ship ran into engine trouble and rocky seas this weekend, resulting in a mayday call and dramatic rescue off the western coast of Norway.

After seeing footage of the Viking Sky listing to one side and passengers being ferried off the ship via helicopter, would-be cruise customers are saying they may cancel their upcoming trips on Viking or other line's ships.

"Why I won’t be going on a cruise...like, ever," one user wrote, quote-tweeting video from one of the ship's passengers.

"I am going on a cruise next month might cancel that now," another user wrote. One person went even further: "Let me go ahead and cancel my cruise (right now)," he wrote.

Chris Cross of Denham Springs, Louisiana is taking a wait-and-see approach. The 61-year-old, who has previously taken Viking cruises, says he has three more scheduled – "for now."

He told USA TODAY, "I want to see what the investigation finds out. We know they shouldn't have gone out in that weather, but, I want to know the thought process before making up my mind."

Cruising has good safety record overall

Despite the Viking Sky incident, cruising is one of the safest ways to travel, according to the trade group Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

Citing a 2017 study, CLIA says that although the cruise industry's capacity has grown by 48 percent, the overall number of operational incidents has declined by 38 percent. 

"A cruise holiday is one of the safest forms of travel, and the safety of passengers and crew is the top priority of cruise lines," said CLIA spokesperson Sarah Kennedy in a statement to USA TODAY. She noted the average ship undergoes dozens of safety inspections each year. "Cruise ships are designed to withstand extreme weather conditions at sea, and, whenever possible, seek to avoid bad weather." 

Cruising has steadily been gaining in popularity, especially with American travelers. CLIA projects 30 million passengers to take cruises in 2019, up from 17.8 million in 2009, according to the group's 2019 trend report. The majority of passengers, 11.9 million, come from the U.S., a number almost five times that of any other country.

Many customers still trust Viking

Gracie Ziegler, who took a Viking cruise from Stockholm to Bergen, Norway, last summer, says she would travel with them again.

"While we were watching the news unfold we talked about it," the marketing director from Fayetteville, Arkansas, told USA TODAY. "Viking takes care of everything, and we would trust them to do it again." 

Andrew Spriggs, 29-year-old a tax accountant from Houston who sailed on the Viking Sky in November, told USA TODAY he expects the company will be "hyper-vigilant in the future," adding that they will likely "be working harder to win back customer support, which will probably lead to them going above and beyond for at least the near future."

Other previous Viking customers came to the cruise line's defense on Twitter.

"I never want to end up on a Dateline special, which is in part why I always said I’d never go on a cruise," 38-year-old Holly LeCapitaine of Green Bay, Wisconsin, wrote on Twitter. "But when the opportunity arose to hit up the Mediterranean in November, I was like yesss! We were on the Viking Sun and I’m pretty glad this was not #myvikingstory."

She told USA TODAY: "I would absolutely go on another Viking cruise in a hot second. I wouldn’t have changed a single thing and feel like this is just one of those freakish things that can unfortunately happen."

And an eight-time customer wrote she "(remains) a huge Viking fan": "Was on sister ship almost 3 years ago. It also had engine problem near end of cruise, but we were never in danger. I remain a huge Viking fan. Been on 8 cruises."

What happened on the Viking Sky?

The Viking Sky left the northern city of Tromsoe, Norway, carrying more than 1,300 people and was headed to the southern city of Stavanger when it suffered engine trouble Saturday and began drifting toward the rocky coast. After encountering rough waters and high winds, the Viking Sky issued a mayday call. Authorities airlifted 479 passengers off the ship by helicopter, and then the ship limped into the nearby port of Molde with the aid of a towboat the following day.

On Monday, Norwegian authorities began investigating why the Viking ship was sailing after a weather warning had been issued. The probe will delve into ship operations, a technical study of why the engines failed and a review of how the rescue was handled, said Kurt Olsen, an acting director for Norway's Accident Investigations Board.

Hospital officials have said one person is in critical condition, and eight others were still hospitalized Monday morning, according to the Associated Press. 

One passenger likened the harrowing experience to the Titanic, which sank on its maiden voyage in April 1912 after hitting an iceberg. 

Carolyn Savikas of Pennsylvania described the terror aboard the Viking Sky to Norway's VG newspaper, saying she heard a "terrible crash," after which the ship rocked, and water raced in.

"We were in the restaurant when a really huge wave came and shattered a door and flooded the entire restaurant," she said. "All I saw were bones, arms, water and tables. It was like the Titanic – just like the pictures you have seen from the Titanic."

Viking's next sailing, which had been set for Wednesday, has been canceled.

Contributing: John Bacon and The Associated Press.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: After Viking cruise ship rescue, passengers concerned about cruising safety