A cruise ship sailed into an intense cyclone. Warning signs showed trouble was brewing

The Viking Sky’s mayday call came on Sunday NZT just off Norway.

It followed an engine failure that left the ship stranded in the harsh conditions.

Waves topping 18m and winds exceeding hurricane strength buffeted the crippled vessel. The storm had the air pressure of a Category three hurricane.

The storm system that would eventually terrify cruisegoers aboard the Viking Sky didn’t come without warning. It didn’t materialise out of nowhere.

And it didn’t develop on a whim. Instead, the sprawling low was hinted at by weather models up to a week in advance.

Simulations as early as March 16 indicated a wave of low pressure would rapidly intensify sometime around the weekend of the 23rd and 24th between Iceland and Norway. But it wasn’t clear at the time exactly where.

It’s not unusual to have intense cyclones develop in this part of the world in March.

The equinoctial seasons are known for their vicious transitions, often manifest by violent open-ocean storms. The northeast Atlantic is a notoriously rough patch of maritime real estate in the late winter and early spring, often spinning up gales that can threaten even the most experienced captains.

The forecast became much clearer last Thursday into Friday NZT, when it appeared obvious that the central coast of Norway would be hard-hit.

The Viking Sky departed Bergen, Norway, on March 14, bound for a port-hopping excursion northward up the coast. It would then turn around and hit several cities on its way south, eventually steaming to Tilbury, England.

But the storm was on a crash-course with the Viking Sky’s desired path. The ship could have remained docked on Bodø to ride out the storm. Instead, it continued south, becoming stranded and prompting an airlift evacuation. The Viking Sky arrived safely into the port of Molde on Monday.

So while the ship did continue to operate in treacherous weather, it likely was not a conscious decision – unlike Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas’ infamous 2018 encounter with a “bomb cyclone”.

The lack of ability to navigate or turn the ship also left the Viking Sky susceptible to being broadsided by waves.

Several large breakers ploughed into the ship, smashing windows and shattering glass.

Video shows the ship listing to and fro at nearly 20 degrees to the horizontal. That’s because the ship’s 29m width tucked it in between wave crests, exposing the vessel to maximum sideways rocking motion when a wave passed through.

The storm system has since dissipated, weakening over the Norwegian and Barents Seas.

The incident is set to be probed by the Norwegian Accident Investigations Board.

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