1,300 to be evacuated from cruise ship off Norwegian coast after mayday call in heavy winds

Rescue teams off Norway's western coast are working to evacuate 1,300 passengers and crew from a cruise ship as huge waves toss the vessel from side to side in high winds.

The MS Viking Sky issued the a mayday call on Saturday afternoon after running into engine problems, Norwegian authorities say.

Video and photos from people on the ship showed chairs and other furniture rolling from side to side after the ship ran into problems in an area known for its rough, freezing waters.

The ship is believed to now be anchored in Hustadsvika Bay, between the western Norwegian cities of Alesund and Trondheim.

Local media reports gusts of 38 knots (43 miles per hour) have been reported, with waves in excess of eight metres. The majority of the cruise ship passengers are reportedly British and American tourists.

The location of the rescue operation to the north of the country. Credit: ITV News / Bing

Janet Jacob, who was among the first passengers to be evacuated, said: "I was afraid. I've never experienced anything so scary."

She spoke how her helicopter ride to safety came amid strong winds "like a tornado," prompting her to pray "for the safety of all aboard".

The ship's evacuation is likely to be a slow and dangerous process, as passengers needed to be hoisted from the cruise ship to the five available helicopters one by one.

The Viking Sky reportedly ran into propulsion problems in heavy seas and strong winds. Credit: NTB scanpix via AP

Efforts are being hampered as a strong storm prevents rescue workers from using life boats or tug boats to take passengers ashore.

"It's a demanding exercise, because they (passengers) have to hang in the air under a helicopter and there's a very, very strong wind," witness Odd Roar Lange told NRK at the site.

The Viking Sky is operated by Viking Ocean Cruises and made her maiden voyage in 2017.

The company reports it has a passenger capacity of 930, with extra space laid over for members of crew.

In a statement, the Foreign Office confirmed: "We are in touch with Norwegian authorities and stand ready to help any British people who require our assistance."

The vessel developed problems with its engines, leading to the evacuation. Credit: CHC helicopters