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Ship Catches Fire Near Cyprus

October 4, 1997

LIMASSOL, Cyprus (AP) _ A cruise ship caught fire today near the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, forcing more than 750 tourists and crew members to escape the burning vessel, which was in danger of sinking.

Passengers boarded lifeboats or climbed onto British Royal Air Force helicopters sent to help evacuate the MS Romantica, officials said. The helicopters carried the passengers to a nearby cruise ship, the Princessa Victoria.

The Romantica, a 10,500-ton Cypriot ship, was on its way to Port Said, Egypt, when it caught fire 65 miles off the southern coast of Cyprus. Most of the passengers on the three-day cruise to Egypt and Israel were from Britain, Germany and Russia.

All 575 passengers and 180 of the crew members were safely evacuated, said Yannis Papadopoulos, captain of the Princessa Victoria.

``The evacuation was most orderly. There was no panic,″ he said.

The Romantica captain and four crewmen remained aboard to fight the fire with the help of British firefighters, Cyprus police spokesman Glafcos Xenos said.

First reports indicated that the fire started in the engine room, Xenos said. The fire spread throughout the ship, leaving the vessel listing 30 degrees and there was a risk the ship could capsize and sink, he said.

Two Royal Air Force helicopters were sent from the British base of Akrotiri to aid in the rescue efforts after the ship sent out a distress signal, said Mervyn Wynn Jones, a spokesman for the British forces.

Cyprus police marine units also rushed to the area and assisted in the evacuation, Xenos said.

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