Cruise ship issues mayday as it's forced to evacuate 1,300 passengers

Rescue helicopters are airlifting 1,300 passengers from a cruise ship that suffered an engine failure in windy weather off the coast of Norway on Saturday, said police and rescue services.

The Viking Sky was drifting towards land and had sent out a mayday signal, said the country's maritime rescue service.

Passengers were hoisted one by one from the deck of the ship and airlifted to a village located to the north of the town of Molde on the Norwegian west coast. About 100 people had been evacuated by 4:30 pm CET.

Facilities to accommodate the passengers have been set up on land, said rescue services.

A spokesman said it would take a long time to rescue everyone.

The Norwegian Red Cross tweeted it was sending 60 volunteers to help the rescue services.

The vessel was able to restart one of the engines and was anchored about two kilometres from land and no longer adrift, rescue services told Reuters.

The cruise ship belongs to the Viking Ocean Cruises company founded by Norwegian billionaire businessman Torstein Hagen. It has a capacity of 930 according to the company website.

Waves were six to eight metres high, with wind blowing at 24 metres per second, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. The storm is expected to last at least until midnight local time.

The stretch of water known as Hustadvika is known for its bad weather and shallow waters with reefs. The Norwegian government is considering building a giant ocean tunnel through a nearby mountain to improve safety.