URGENT Ferry Passengers Jump Into the Sea to Escape Fire; 140 Missing
OSLO, Norway (AP) _ A fire blazed through a ferry carrying more than 495 people Saturday and hundreds of passengers jumped into the North sea to escape the flames and smoke. Norwegian radio said about 140 on board were missing, and rescue crews found four bodies.
The owners of the 10,000-ton Scandinavian Star said they believed the fire was deliberately set. They said two blazes were discovered on separate decks within 15 minutes of each other.
Helicopters, rescue craft and boats in the area said they pulled four bodies from the sea. Officials said 350 people were picked from the frigid waters alive and some passengers were taken by helicopter to hospitals in Norway. Police and shipping officials said they suffered smoke inhalation.
The first fire broke out early today in the aft section of the passenger and car ferry as it sailed from Oslo to the Fredrikshavn in Denmark in the Skagerrak strait.
The captain reported the blaze as the ferry was about 40 miles south of the Norwegian Ferder Island in the outer Oslo fiord, or just west of the Swedish Vaeder islands.
The crew quickly extinguished the fire before discovering a larger blaze one deck below, reports said.
Ole Hansen, managing director of the Danish shipping company that operated the ferry, Vognmandsruten, was quoted on Danish radio as saying he was virtually certain the blaze was the result of arson.
Hundreds of the 395 passengers and 100 crew members jumped into the sea, and the NTB news agency said ships near the boat and rescue helicopters picked many from the waters.
But about 140 people were stil unaccounted for. News reports said there were so many vessels helping pull people from the water it was hard to get an accurate picture of how many were rescued.
Rescuers wearing breathing apparatus searched the ship for any casualties, but reported none, news reports said.
There are frequent ferry connections between Norway, Sweden and Denmark in the Skagerrak.
Scandinavian Star had been chartered for only a week by the Danish company, Vognmannsruten, to run the Oslo-Fredrikshavn route. Until recently, the ship belonged to the Swedish shipping company Stena Line of Gothenburg, but was sold to a U.S.-based company, NTB said.
The boat is registered in the Bahamas, has Norwegian officers and a Portuguese crew.