20 years since major ship fire

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It’s been 20 years since fire broke out onboard the Scandinavian Star, a passenger and car ferry sailing from Oslo to Fredrikshavn in Denmark. Some survivors are still waiting for answers and want to see a new investigation launched into the tragedy.

A total of 159 persons were killed when fire and deadly smoke swept through the ship late on the night of April 6, 1990. Police later concluded that a 37-year-old Danish truck driver, earlier convicted of arson, started the fire. He was among those killed.

The other roughly 350 passengers and crew were rescued, but many lost family members and formed a support group that’s trying to get the case re-opened. Among them is Jan Harsem, who lost his pregnant wife and claims new information has emerged since the probe into the fire ended in 2003.

The vessel, built in 1971, had only just been put in service after renovations that many claimed weren’t complete when it started sailing. Many cabins weren’t ready, check-in procedures had been chaotic and new crew members seemed unfamiliar with the vessel. Many were Portuguese and spoke neither Norwegian nor Danish.

The fire broke out in the middle of the night, while the ship was sailing out of the Oslo Fjord. Passengers who didn’t get out of their cabins or through the corridors died from smoke inhalation, despite a huge rescue operation involving Norway, Sweden and Denmark. It was late getting launched, reports Stavanger Aftenblad, because initial reports indicated most passengers had been saved.

The director of the shipowning company Sea Escape, Ole B Hansen, the captain Hugo Larsen and businessman Henrik Johansen were all convicted and sentenced to six-month jail terms for their role in the vessel’s operation.

Views and News staff