New theories emerge into tragedy on board the ferry ‘Scandinavian Star’

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Persons other than the truck driver accused of setting a fire on board the cruise ferry Scandinavian Star may have been responsible for the tragedy that killed 159 persons during a voyage from Oslo 23 years ago. New theories are emerging from a working group that’s conducted its own probe into the disaster.

The newly remodeled Scandinavian Star was sailing from Oslo to Frederikshavn in Denmark when fire broke out in the early morning hours of April 7, 1990. The fire broke out in international waters in the Skagerrak, and the smoldering vessel was later towed to Lysekil, Sweden. Of the 159 victims of the fire, 134 were Norwegians, nearly twice as many as those killed in the terrorist attacks of July 22, 2011.

Lack of closure
While those attacks have sparked massive investigations, memorials, the killer’s lengthy trial and compensation for victims, the Scandinavian Star tragedy has never resulted in any clear answers and some survivors still feel a lack of closure or justice. It was difficult to establish who actually owned the vessel at the time, even though two Danish shipowners and the vessel’s Norwegian captain were sentenced to jail terms for various offenses like deficiencies in fire alarm systems and testing. The vessel was later even repaired and put into service again in the Caribbean, but was scrapped in 2004.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Friday that a report due over the weekend suggests that several fires were actually set on board the vessel, after the accused arsonist had been killed by the fire himself. The working group made up of shipping experts from Skansen Consult AS, firefighters and arson investigators, also claims, according to NRK, that insurance fraud may have been involved.

Norwegian police at the time identified a 37-year-old Danish truck driver, earlier convicted of arson, as the arsonist. The case against him was dropped, however, because he also perished in the fire on board the car ferry.

Lack of willingness to investigate
Ingvar Brynfors of the fire brigade at Frölunda n Sweden was the first firefighter to be hoisted on to the smoldering ship after around 200 passengers had been rescued. NRK reported that he claims it would have been impossible for the Danish truck driver to have set the fatal fire. Brynfors doesn’t think the Norwegian police investigation was adequate, noting that he was never called in for questioning himself.

“I saw the various places where fires were set around the ship,” he told Sveriges Television (SVT). “I was only asked one question by Norwegian police and then he disappeared.”

A survivors’ group asked Norwegian authorities to reopen the investigation into the fire, but was turned down last year. The group has complained of a lack of willingness by the authorities to investigate, while circumstances around the tragedy have also been controversial, not least the unclear ownership details of the vessel.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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