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Ferry on Fire Off Coast of Sweden

July 8, 1999

GOTEBORG, Sweden (AP) _ More than 1,100 passengers on an overnight ferry from Germany to Norway were safely evacuated Thursday before dawn after a fire broke out below decks, rescue officials said.

Many passengers from the Prinsesse Ragnhild were taken aboard a Stena Line ferry that positioned itself alongside the burning vessel shortly after flames erupted about 2 a.m. Most of the crew remained on board to fight the fire.

Helicopters from Sweden and Norway also helped airlift stranded passengers, officials said.

Several passengers suffered smoke inhalation, rescue officials said, but there were no serious injuries reported. Goteborg police said the fire, which began in the machine room and spread to the engine room, had been extinguished.

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

Another rescued passenger, Knut Gran of Norway, told Norway’s state radio NRK, ``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.″

Norway-based Color Line, owner of the Prinsesse Ragnhild, said the ferry had 1,167 passengers and 172 crew on board, for a total of 1,339. The company had earlier given a total that included two more passengers.

The first evacuees arrived in Goteborg, Sweden’s second-largest city, where hospitals and clinics were girding for first aid and disaster relief in the event of deaths or injuries.

The accident happened about 11 miles off the west coast of Sweden, near the town of Vinga in the Goteborg archipelago.

The area north of Denmark is a well-traveled sea lane, and merchant ships and rescue helicopters arrived quickly to offer aid.

The weather was clear and seas were calm, almost still, passenger Anders Oestberg told TT.

Rescue officials set up a telephone information hotline for relatives and reporters to obtain information and were registering the names of rescued passengers to be sure all were off the ship, said Peter Gikstroem of the Goteborg police department.

Most passengers probably were Norwegian tourists heading home on the popular ferry, said Trygve Sigersted, managing director of Color Line.

The close call was a chilling reminder for Scandinavians, who suffered two major ferry disasters 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.

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