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Wednesday, March 27, 2019 

The reasons why the cruise ship 'Viking Sky' suddenly lost propulsion power off the western coast of Norway on 23 March are currently taxing the brains of accident investigators and marine engineering experts.

Although the consequences of the accident were bad enough, with several injuries, the Captain, crew and rescue organisations managed to safely evacuate the ship and to prevent it drifting too close to the rocky coastline.

The fact that another vessel, Hagland Captain, which went to the aid of Viking Sky, suffered a similar loss of propulsion merely adds to the questions that have to be asked.

The Norwegian Maritime Authority has begun its investigations, and has reportedly already stated that divers have confirmed the ship's hull suffered no damage in the incident. The divers additionally checked the cooling water inlets, which were found to be clear.

The cause of the blackout will be the subject of a detailed investigation, by not only the NMA but also the UK MAIB and the US equivalent body, as there were significant numbers of UK and US citizens onboard.

The involvement of MAIB has drawn speculation that the use of ultra low sulphur distillate fuel oil, as required by the ECA regulations, may be a possible factor, as the MAIB recently published its report into a ro-pax ferry incident when this contributed to power loss.

Other theories are that debris in the fuel tanks may have been shaken up in the rough sea conditions, causing a fuel system blockage, or that air or seawater may have entered the fuel system and engines. Structural flexing, resulting in broken fuel lines or electrical connections, has also been cited as a possibility.

Although the weather conditions were bad, with 7m-8m waves and strong winds, such conditions are not unknown in the area and the ship would have received the appropriate weather warnings. Nevertheless, questions are bound to be asked about the design of the ship and its systems, and their ability to cope with severe weather, as well as the preparedness of the crew for such conditions, which would be unfamiliar to those not used to Norwegian waters.

Because Viking Sky has a twin-screw diesel electric propulsion system then initial speculation blaming podded propulsion units proved to be unfounded.

It has to be said that it is far too early to draw conclusions and that the above theories are mere speculation and not backed by factual evidence. But there was a severe blackout, which could have had far worse consequences, and the cruise industry as well as ship and propulsion system designers will no doubt find lessons to be learned from the Viking Sky.

(picture credit Christian Ferrer - Own work, CC BY 4.0,

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