OSLO - A cruise ship that got into trouble off the Norwegian coast is heading to port after the dramatic rescue of hundreds of its passengers. The Viking Sky lost power on Saturday and sent out a distress signal after it began drifting towards land.

Rescuers airlifted almost 500 of the 1,373 mostly elderly passengers from the ship in bad weather.The vessel’s engines have been restarted and it is heading towards the port of Molde.

Evacuations have been halted for now but rescuers said they could resume if the captain deems it necessary.

The Viking Sky suffered engine failure on Saturday afternoon while en route to Stavanger from Tromso in a notoriously treacherous stretch of waters. Fisherman Jan Erik Fiskerstrand, whose boat was one of the first to come to help Viking Sky, told Aftenposten newspaper, “it was just minutes before this could have gone really wrong”.

The ship could have hit the rocks “if they had not started the engine and fastened the anchor” he added.

Five helicopters and several rescue ships were called in but poor weather meant the lifeboats were forced to turn back.

The authorities decided to launch airlifts rather than leave people on board and hundreds were hoisted to safety.

Among those rescued 20 people suffered injuries. Most of those travelling are said to be British or US citizens.

The cruise’s operator said 436 guests and 458 crew remain on board.

Derek Browne, from southern England, who was travelling with his wife Esther told the BBC the ship had been “rolling and rolling” all night on Friday before losing engine power on Saturday.

He said being airlifted to safety was “quite a frightening experience”.

Britons tell of ‘frightening’ rescue

George Davis, from Manchester, said he and his wife Barbara waited 10 hours to be rescued.

“It was a very scary event”, he said, adding: “Locals tell us they were amazed that we sailed into the teeth of a storm they knew was coming”.