Police launch new probe of ferry fire

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With many questions around the tragic “Scandinavian Star” ferry fire of 1990 never answered, Oslo’s police chief announced Friday that he wants to launch a new, if limited, investigation into what caused it. The deadly blaze that swept through the vessel while sailing from Oslo to Fredrikshavn in Denmark killed 159 people.

Smoke continued to billow from the ferry "Scandinavian Star" long after it was towed to a dock at Lysekil in Sweden. The tragic and unexplained fire on board the vessel after it left Oslo 24 years ago caused the heaviest loss of life in Norway since World War II. PHOTO: NTB Scanpix/Finn E Strømberg / Aftenposten

Smoke continued to billow from the ferry “Scandinavian Star” long after it was towed to a dock at Lysekil in Sweden. The tragic and unexplained fire on board the vessel after it left Oslo 24 years ago caused the heaviest loss of life in Norway since World War II. PHOTO: NTB Scanpix/Finn E Strømberg / Aftenposten

The tragedy aboard the Scandinavian Star still accounts for the worst loss of life in Norway since World War II. Oslo Police Chief Hans Sverre Sjøvold now agrees that various portions of the case should be investigated once again.

“Now I hope that the truth will finally come out,” Jan Hersem, leader of the support group for survivors of the ferry fire, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) as he headed into the main Oslo police station on Friday. Hersem has worked for many years to reopen the investigation, because of persistent disagreement among private investigators and survivors over who may have been behind the fire.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) wrote earlier this week about how many of the survivors and families of those killed on board the ship have never been satisfied with the investigations conducted right after the fire, which broke out on the night of April 6-7, 1990 as the vessel was sailing south towards Denmark. Danish shipowner Henrik Johansen and director Ole B Hansen, along with the ferry’s Norwegian captain, Hugo Larsen, were all eventually sentenced to jail on various charges of negligence. Police later identified a Danish passenger on board the ferry, Erik Mørk Andersen, as the one who started the fire. He had a record of arson and died on board the ship himself. The case against him was thus eventually dropped.

Survivors and several other interested parties have never accepted the police investigation’s conclusions, and suspect the fire was the result of elaborate insurance fraud. They’ve hired private investigators who revealed the ship was over-insured and claimed the fire flared up in several places on board the vessel. They also formed a group of experts in a foundation that last year delivered a comprehensive report on the fire to police, demanding a new investigation before the statute of limitations would run out in April 2015. The report was accepted, a new group was formed within the Norwegian police’s economic crimes unit Økokrim and state crime unit Kripos, and now the police chief is recommending that there’s reason to resume the investigation.

“The (expert) group has done a thorough job, and their report shows, in my opinion, that various aspects of the case have not been illuminated well enough,” stated Sjøvold in a press release Friday. “Even though nothing new has been uncovered, I have, after a total evaluation, nonetheless decided to recommend new investigation of these aspects of the case.”

Among the aspects posed by the expert group last year were the probability that four fires broke out simultaneously on board the Scandinavian Star, that there were signs of sabotage to fire-fighting equipment on board the vessel, that it was questionable the alleged arsonist could have set all the fires himself and that some crew members may even have been involved in what they consider a murderous blaze. Firefighters sent from Lysekil in Sweden have reported seeing several men with Asian features fleeing the ship, who were never accounted for within passenger or crewing lists.

The police noted on Friday that “the catastrophe was a national tragedy, and we owe all those involved to find the best answers (to the nagging questions) as possible.” Gisle Weddegjerde, a ship and security inspector who serves a spokesman for the group seeking a new investigation, was relieved by the police decision.

“I think there will be a full investigation now,” Weddegjerde told NRK. “That’s likely when you first start looking at everything in this case.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund