The Latest: Cruise ship line's founder: 'We've been lucky'

STAVANGER, Norway (AP) — The Latest on the Viking Sky cruise ship that was stranded off the coast of Norway (all times local):

12:50 p.m.

The chairman of the company that operates a cruise ship that got stranded off Norway's western coast in bad weather Saturday praised the rescue operation by Norwegian authorities and the actions of the vessel's crew.

Viking Ocean Cruises chairman Torstein Hagen told Norway's VG newspaper that the events surrounding the Viking Sky were "some of the worst I have been involved in, but now it looks like it's going well in the end and that we've been lucky."

The company said in a statement that before the ship started being towed to the port of Molde on Sunday, 479 passengers had been airlifted to land by helicopters, leaving 436 passengers and 458 crew members onboard.

A tug boat and two other vessels are assisting the Viking Sky travel from the bay where it managed to anchor to land.

Hagen, a shipping tycoon who is one of Norway's richest men, said: "I am very proud of our crew."

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11:35 a.m.

The air evacuation of passengers on a stranded cruise ship in Norway has been suspended so the vessel can be towed to a nearby port.

The Viking Sky carried 1,373 passengers and crew members when it had engine trouble in an unpredictable area of the Norwegian coast known for rough, frigid waters. The crew issued a mayday call Saturday afternoon.

Five helicopters flying in the pitch dark evacuated passengers from the tossing ship throughout the night and continued the airlifts at a steady pace Sunday morning.

The rescues took place under difficult conditions that included wind gusts up to 38 knots (43 mph) and waves over 8 meters (26 feet).

Some 17 people were hospitalized with injuries, police said.

The Joint Rescue Coordination Center said the helicopters had taken 463 passengers to safety by the time it was ready to be towed to shore by two tug boats.

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9:50 a.m.

Rescue workers are evacuating more passengers from a cruise ship that had engine problems in bad weather off Norway's western coast while authorities prepare to tow the vessel to a nearby port.

Norway's Joint Rescue Center said 379 of the 1,373 passengers and crew members on the Viking Sky had been taken off the ship one-by-one and airlifted to shore as of Sunday morning.

The rescue center says three of the ship's four engines are working now and will help power the boat while it's towed to Molde. The helicopter evacuations will continue in the meantime.

The Viking Sky ran into trouble Saturday afternoon in an unpredictable area of the Norwegian coast known for rough, frigid waters. Police said the crew, fearing the ship would run aground, managed to anchor in Hustadvika Bay so the evacuations could take place.

More than 450 passengers were airlifted off a cruise ship that got stranded off Norway's western coast in bad weather before the rescue operation was suspended Sunday so the vessel could be towed to a nearby port, Norwegian authorities said.

Five helicopters flying in the pitch dark took the evacuated passengers from the tossing ship in a painstaking process that continued throughout the night. The rescues took place under difficult conditions that included wind gusts up to 38 knots (43 mph) and waves over 8 meters (26 feet).

Some 17 people were hospitalized with injuries, police said.

Passenger Alexus Sheppard told The Associated Press in a message sent from the Viking Sky that people with injuries or disabilities were winched off the cruise ship first. The atmosphere onboard grew calmer after the rescue operation's first dramatic hours, Sheppard said.

"It was frightening at first. And when the general alarm sounded it became VERY real," she wrote.

Photos posted on social media showed the ship listing from side to side, and furniture smashing violently into walls.

"We saw two people taken off by stretcher," another passenger, Dereck Brown, told Norwegian newspaper Romsdal Budstikke. "People were alarmed. Many were frightened but they were calm."

The Viking Sky carried 1,373 passengers and crew members when it had engine trouble in an unpredictable area of the Norwegian coast known for rough, frigid waters. The crew issued a mayday call Saturday afternoon.

Police said the crew, fearing the ship would run aground, managed to anchor in Hustadvika Bay so the evacuations could take place.

Coast guard official Emil Heggelund estimated to newspaper VG that the ship was 100 meters (328 feet) from striking rocks under the water and 900 meters (2,953 feet) from shore when it stopped.

The ship was visiting the Norwegian towns and cities of Narvik, Alta, Tromso, Bodo and Stavanger before its scheduled arrival Tuesday in the British port of Tilbury on the River Thames. The passengers mostly were a mix of American, British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian citizens.

The airlifts continued at a steady pace Sunday morning, as the vessel was being prepared for towing by two tugboats to the nearby town of Molde, according to Per Fjerd at the Joint Rescue Coordination Center.

The helicopters stopped taking people off the ship when the ship was ready for the trip to shore, and 463 passengers had been evacuated by that time, the Joint Rescue center said. Three of the ship's four engines were working as of Sunday morning, the center said.

The Viking Sky, a vessel with a gross tonnage of 47,800, was delivered in 2017 to operator Viking Ocean Cruises.

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