1,000 rescued as Norwegian ferry blazes

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN 1,000 people were evacuated from a blazing Norwegian ferry at dawn yesterday.

The Prinsesse Ragnhild, operated by the Norwegian company Color Line, was sailing from the German port of Kiel to Oslo when fire broke out in its engine room shortly before 2am. There were 1,167 passengers on board, mostly Norwegians and German holidaymakers, and a crew of 172.

A 73-year-old Norwegian woman, who suffered heart problems during the fire, died in hospital eight hours after being rescued. But last night just 13 other people were still being treated for shock and light smoke inhalation. "Most are just in [hospital] for observation and none of them is in a serious condition," a police spokesman said.

Helicopters from Denmark, Sweden and Norway were on the scene within minutes. Some 20 ships helped the rescue, including fishing vessels and another ferry, which alone took 500 people to safety. While passengers were being winched off into inflatable lifeboats, fire crews battled with the flames for four hours.

As the ferry limped into the Swedish port of Gothenburg yesterday afternoon, passengers praised the crew and emergency services. "We knew exactly where to go," said one Norwegian woman. "The escape routes were well signposted."

Rune Hukhelderg, a fisherman of Trondheim, said that many passengers at first thought the alarm was a safety drill: "But then there was a lot of smoke on board and we could smell the fire."

Birger Knutsson of the Swedish National Maritime Administration told Reuters news agency: "The calm weather was a major factor in the rescue operation going so well. The ship and crew also worked perfectly for a smooth evacuation."

Yesterday's incident was the first real test of the strict safety rules imposed in Scandinavian waters after the sinking of the ferry Estonia five years ago, which claimed 852 lives.

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