Fire ‘happened so fast,’ drills helped

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The fire that broke out on board the Hurtigruten ship MS Nordlys on Thursday was so explosive in nature that the vessel’s crew had no time to organize any fire-fighting attempts, crew members said Friday afternoon. With thick smoke quickly filling the ship, a rapid evacuation was the most important.

The stricken Hurtigruten ship "MS Nordlys" was still listing at the pier in Ålesund Friday afternoon. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), which won rave reviews for airing an entire Hurtigruten voyage last summer, was following the scene with live video. PHOTO: NRK/Views and News

Passengers have praised the “calm” and “efficient” manner in which all 207 of them, many of whom were elderly, were handed life vests and sent into life boats or otherwise evacuated. “We had no time to think, it was just to get people off the ship,” boatswain Tommy Didriksen said at a press conference.

He describe the fire, which killed two crew members including an 18-year-old trainee making his first voyage, as “an inferno” when it erupted after an apparent explosion in the vessel’s engine room just before 9:30am as the vessel was approaching the west coast city of Ålesund.

“A lot happened, and it happened fast,” Didriksen said. “It went so fast that nothing was organized, it was like an inferno. But the drills we’ve had in emergency exercises were of good use. We had to evacuate.”

The vessel’s hotel manager, Finn Krog Bexrud, said the situation was “rather chaotic” as the ship filled with smoke within about three minutes. “But the crew reacted as they’d been drilled,” Bexrud said.

The result was a quick evacuation. The vessel was running a bit late on its approach to Ålesund and most all passengers were awake with many already assembled in the dining room for breakfast. Others, Bexrud said, were on Deck Four to watch the sail into Ålesund. That proved to be an advantage in getting passengers together for the evacuation, although crew also quickly checked the cabins of passengers with mobility problems.

It was also an advantage that the fire broke out so close to a relatively major city like Ålesund. Fire officials in some of the much smaller ports along Hurtigruten’s route, including the fire chief in Berlevåg in northern Norway, said they wouldn’t have been equipped to handle such a major blaze.

Lisberth Berg-Hansen, the government minister in charge of fisheries and coastal affairs, was in Ålesund Friday in connection with the accident. “The accident disturbs us all,” Berg-Hansen said. Hurtigruten, she said, “has a special place” in the Norwegian people’s hearts and minds.

Emergency crews were still working late Friday afternoon to keep the vessel from capsizing. After listing severely they thought the vessel was stabilized but then it started listing again. Police Chief Jon Steven Hasseldal said pumps were being moved to get more water off the vessel “and we’re hoping for a positive result.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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