SVALBARD, Norway — A Soviet passenger liner with about 950 people on board rammed an iceberg in the Norwegian Sea and began listing early today, and hundreds of people were transferred to lifeboats, according to reports from the area.
In London, Lloyd's shipping intelligence service said the 25,000-ton liner was sinking.
The liner Maxim Gorky radioed rescue units in northern Norway shortly after midnight that it had struck an iceberg about 185 miles west of the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, the Norwegian news agency NTB reported.
Some passengers, many of them elderly West Germans, climbed onto thick ice floes and were being picked up by the Norwegian vessel Senja, which arrived about four hours after the distress signal, the news agency said.
Other people among the estimated 950 passengers and crew aboard the 629-foot vessel boarded lifeboats and rafts lowered from the damaged ship into the near-freezing water, the reports said.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
"The passengers appear to be in good shape and humor. . . . Rescue operations are somewhat difficult because the lifeboats are near the ice, which is moving," said the Senja's captain, Kjell Tveiten, via the ship's radio.
NTB quoted the Norwegian Defense Command as saying several other Norwegian and Soviet vessels were within 300 miles of the Maxim Gorky and that the ship's situation appeared stable. Four to six Norwegian rescue helicopters were on their way, the report said.
Hospitals in north Norway and on Spitsbergen, east of northern Greenland, were on emergency alert and awaiting Norwegian medical teams dispatched by helicopter, reports said.
The Maxim Gorky was built in West Germany in 1969 and was sold to the Soviet Union in 1974. In recent summers, the liner has carried mostly West Germans on tours from Hamburg, and Lloyd's said the current cruise originated from that West German port.
Intercepted by Coast Guard
Lloyd's quoted a message about the Soviet vessel that was intercepted by the Falmouth coast guard in southwestern England.
The message gave the vessel's position as in international waters and well inside the Arctic Circle.
The Soviet Union's most serious recent maritime incident occurred in the Black Sea, when a passenger liner collided with a cargo ship on Aug. 31 of last year and sank with the loss of more than 100 lives.