MILFORD HAVEN, Wales (AP) _ A fire early today on an Ireland-bound car ferry killed one person, left 25 injured and appeared to be arson, the vessel's owners said. Passengers reported crawling through thick smoke to safety.

The fire started in two sleeping cabins in an unoccupied section of the ferry Norrona, which was carrying 297 people from Wales, Dublin, Ireland-based B and I shipping line said in a statement.

It did not elaborate, but the company's marine superintendent, Capt. Peter McKenna, told Irish Radio that B and I was ''fairly certain about this.'' He said the company believes mattresses or lighted paper were used to start the fire. Police were interviewing all those on board.

The ferry was eight miles off the Welsh coast en route from Milford Haven, 180 miles west of London, to Rosslare, Ireland, when the fire was discovered. Firefighters and crew members controlled the blaze within two hours of the captain's Mayday call, said coast guard spokesman George Clarke.

Survivors described crawling through thick smoke that choked corridors and cabins, 10 of which were damaged.

''I took the skin off my knees and toes but, thank God, we got out alive,'' said Fred Jenkinson, who was asleep in his cabin when he heard shouts and smelled smoke.

''I am sure the terrible fire on the Scandinavian Star at the weekend was going through a lot of people's minds. Suddenly, we all seemed to be in a similar situation.''

About 150 people aboard the Scandinavian Star ferry were killed when fire broke out Saturday as the ship sailed in the North Sea on an overnight trip from Norway to Denmark. Investigators said they suspected arson.

''We were in the cabin when we heard a shout and the whole place was filled with smoke. It was quite frightening. But there was absolutely no panic,'' said Olive Leader, who was traveling with her sister and children.

Another passenger, Delia Reynolds, said she heard screaming but no alarms.

''Crew members were busy going around saying 'Everyone up on deck, go up on deck.' The smoke was awful but there was no panic,'' Mrs. Reynolds said.

A team of B and I engineers boarded the ferry to assess the damage.

The coast guard at Milford Haven, Wales, said the person killed in the fire had not been identified but a Royal Air Force spokesman said it was a crew member.

Nine of the injured were airlifted from the ferry by two RAF helicopters and one Royal Navy helicopter, which also brought firefighters and two doctors to the vessel, Clarke said.

Other casualties from among the 219 passengers and 78 crew members were taken to the hospital by ambulance when the vessel returned to the dock at Milford Haven under its own power.

The injured were treated for smoke inhalation, cuts and bruises, said an unidentified spokeswoman at Withybush Hospital in Haverfordwest. One woman was transferred to the intensive care unit at another hospital, she said.