The engine failure of a cruise ship with 1,300 people aboard forced it to make a complex evacuation operation amid stormy conditions off the western coast of Norway.

"The cruise ship Viking Sky has sent a call for help due to problems of engine failure on a day of bad weather. It's drifting toward land. We've sent several helicopters and boats to the area," rescue services of More og Romsdal County reported in a first communique.

The ship sent out a mayday message at 2.00 pm and soon afterwards a reception center was set up on a sports pavilion in hopes the passengers could soon be evacuated.

According to newscasts on Norwegian public television channel NRK, late in the afternoon the evacuation of the first 139 passengers was completed. They reached land safe and sound, though several hasd to be taken to hospitals.

By mid-afternoon, NRK began broadcasting pictures of the rescue operations, made all the more difficult by waves of up to 8m (26 ft) high accompanied by high winds.

While the evacuation operations continued, a parallel attempt was made to reactivate the motors of the cruise ship to get the Viking Sky moving once more.

Norwegian rescue services reported in the following hours on Twitter that five helicopters were taking part in the evacuations.

Some rescue boats that set out to help with the evacuation were forced to turn back by the storm.

NRK reported that the operation is expected to be prolonged, since each helicopter can only carry between 10 and 15 passengers on each flight.

Both the crew and all the passengers aboard the cruise ship are in stable condition, the NRK said, citing police sources, while social networks began to show live shots of the cruise ship tossing from side to side.

Constructed in 2017, the Viking Sky is operated by Viking Ocean Cruises, part of Norwegian billionaire Torstein Hagen's Viking Cruises group.

The vessel sailed on March 14 from the western Norwegian city of Bergen for a 12-day cruise to the British port of Tilbury.

The coastal waters of Hustadvika are considered a complex area for navigation, since high winds and powerful ocean currents are frequent there.