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Hundreds Rescued From Burning Ferry

July 8, 1999

GOTEBORG, Sweden (AP) _ The smell of acrid smoke and the sound of fire alarms woke passengers on an overnight ferry from Germany to Norway today, when a fire below decks forced a pre-dawn evacuation of hundreds.

No serious injuries were reported among the 1,167 passengers and 172 crew members aboard the Prinsesse Ragnhild. Hospital officials in Goteborg, where the ship was towed, said three passengers were treated for smoke injuries and one for a heart problem.

A distress call went out at 2:13 a.m., within moments of the fire’s detection, and the decision was quickly made to abandon the ferry, owned by the Norway-based Color Line.

``I noticed the smell of smoke in the cabin ... and then the alarm sounded ... and then it was just a matter of getting dressed as fast as you could and take your most important things with you,″ Knut Gran of Norway told Norway state radio NRK.

While passengers filed into lifeboats, a ferry from the Stena line pulled alongside within a half hour. It and a smaller boat shuttled more than 500 passengers from the stricken ship, a 670-foot-long ferry capable of carrying 1,875 passengers and 770 cars.

More ships, along with helicopters, also appeared, and favorable weather conditions helped the evacuation. It was relatively windless and clear in the pre-dawn light and seas were calm.

Within about four hours, the fire was under control and virtually all passengers _ most of them Norwegian tourists _ were taken off and brought to Goteborg. Most of the crew and at least one passenger stayed on board while the ship was towed to the Swedish port city.

``There was never any panic,″ 70-year-old Marit Stakvik-Joergensen of Oslo told TT. ``Some probably thought at first that it was just a drill, but when they put the life jackets on and felt the smoke, then they understood it was serious.″

Anne-Lise Gaustad, an elderly Norwegian, said families with children went into the lifeboats first. She and others were given wet towels to breathe through because of smoke. ``I still have a headache,″ she said. ``We’re pretty shaken.″

The accident happened 11 miles off the west coast of Sweden, near the town of Vinga in the Goteborg archipelago. The Prinsesse Ragnhild was en route from Kiel, Germany, to Oslo, Norway.

The engine room seems badly damaged and ``looks like an ashtray,″ long-haul truck driver Arne Slorafoss of Norway told NRK. He volunteered to stay aboard and help with salvage efforts.

There were conflicting reports whether the fire began in the engine or machine room.

The close call chilled Scandinavians who recalled two ferry disasters in the region this decade.

On April 7, 1990, the Scandinavian Star passenger ferry caught fire on an overnight run from Denmark to Norway, killing 159 people in the same waters off western Sweden.

In September 1994, 852 people died when the Estonia ferry went down in the Baltic Sea en route to Stockholm from the Estonian capital Tallinn. Heavy seas tore off the boat’s visor-like bow door and water surged into the vehicle deck. Only 137 people survived.

Konrad Havig of Norway’s Maritime Directorate said the earlier disasters brought about safety improvements, including improved signs and markings for evacuation and smoke detectors.

The evacuation of the Prinsesse Ragnhild ``is a textbook example of how something like this should be handled. It seems that way, at least,″ he said.

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