A 26-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of arson after a fire broke out on a ferry carrying nearly 1,000 passengers from Newcastle to Amsterdam for New Year’s Eve.
The fire started at about 10.40pm on Saturday and resulted in an emergency airlift that saw four passengers and two crew members taken by helicopter to Scarborough hospital. Some 15 passengers and eight crew members were treated by doctors on board.
Humberside Police said that a 28-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of affray, in addition to the 26-year-old held over the arson allegation.
Many of the passengers were Britons planning to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the Netherlands. The ship was just 30 miles from shore when the emergency alarm sounded.
Passenger Steven Basford, 28, said: “We were in our cabin at about 10.40pm when they raised the alarm with seven high-pitched siren noises. We were told to evacuate [to the] outside of the ship and when we got there they asked us to converge around the lifeboats.
“The fire was on our floor but on the other side of the ship. When we climbed up to the communal area we could see the smoke. It wasn’t thick but it was definitely noticeable. People were generally pretty calm. Obviously people had had a lot to drink. It’s a bit of a party boat. Two big blokes started brawling.”
Andrew Dixon, of Humberside Police, said the Maritime and Coastguard Agency had called them at about 11pm and had said that a passenger was “believed to have set fire to a cabin”.
“As a result of this incident, the person suspected of causing the fire, or the person from the cabin where the fire occurred – be it deliberate or accidental – has been detained by ship staff,” he added.
The fire was extinguished in around 15 minutes and the ferry returned to Newcastle.
Passengers described scenes of confusion and panic as they were called on deck and told to gather around lifeboats. “It was terrifying and I won’t be travelling by boat again. I think I will stay in the UK from now on, it’s a lot safer,” said Julie Bell, from Tyne and Wear. “It was like a scene from a movie, a chaotic mess, horrible.”
Karl McMurrough, 18, from Pennywell, Sunderland, said: “We all got rushed on to the deck, there were helicopters, kids squealing, life jackets. They were telling us to keep calm but they weren’t giving us any information.”
Passenger Steven Basford said: “We were in our room at about 10.40pm last night when they raised the general fire or emergency alarm with seven high pitched siren noises,” he said.
“The fire was on our floor but on the other side of the ship. When we climbed up to the communal area we could see the smoke. It wasn't thick but it was definitely noticeable.
“People were generally pretty calm. Obviously people had had a lot to drink. It's a bit of a party boat. Two big blokes started brawling.”
Gert Jakobsen, a spokesman for the ferry operator DFDS Seaways, said police were speaking to passengers on the ferry and the next ship would leave as scheduled today.
According to the DFDS Seaways website, the 26-year-old vessel has room for over 1,500 passengers and 600 cars. It was renovated in 2006.