Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ferry Scandinavian Star, 158 dead

M/S Massalia, later known as M/S Scandinavian Star and M/S Regal Voyager was a car and passenger ferry built in France in 1971. The ship caught fire in 1990, killing 158 people.

M/S Massalia was built by Dubegion-Normandie S.A. in 1971 and delivered to Compagnie de Paqueboats who put her on the route Marseille - Málaga - Casablanca and also cruises in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1984 she was owned by a number of companies and named Stena Baltica, Island Fiesta and finally Scandinavian Star, a name given to her by Scandinavian World Cruises who chartered the ship and put her on cruises between Tampa, Florida and Cozumel, Mexico.

Scandinavian Star Fire
In 1990 she was sold to Vognmandsruten and put on DA-NO Linjen's route between Oslo, Norway and Frederikshavn, Denmark. As the ship had changed from a casino ship to a passenger ferry, a new crew needed to be trained in just 10 days (whereas 5-6 weeks is the normal time to train a crew for a ship this size). Many of the Filipino crew could speak neither Norwegian or English.
During the night of April 7, 1990, at about 2 a.m. local time, two fires broke out on deck 3 in the passenger section of the ship. The subsequent investigation into the disaster discovered that the second fire was deliberately set (the first fire started about 15 minutes earlier and may have been deliberate as well). Though the bulkheads were made of asbestos, the melamine resin laminate used as a decorative covering was extremely flammable and fed the fire, allowing it to spread throughout deck 3. These laminates also produced hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide when burned, which contributed to many of the deaths on board. As deck 3 also contained a car storage area there were large fans that were used to remove exhaust fumes. These fans sucked up the smoke and rapidly spread it throughout decks 4 and 5 of the ship.
When the captain learned of the fire, he attempted to close the fire doors on deck 3 to prevent the fire from spreading. The fire doors did not close automatically, and needed to be closed manually by pressing the button near the doors. As the doors were open, the fire was able to travel along the length of the ship. Later the captain ordered his crew to turn off the air conditioning system as the captain imagined it was feeding air to the fire. Once the ventilation system was shut off smoke was able to enter cabins and suffocate trapped passengers. The captain ordered the alarms to be activated, told everyone to abandon ship, and sent out a mayday request. Most people could not hear the alarms over the general noise and confusion on the ship, and many did not wake up. The captain and crew ultimately abandoned ship before all the passengers had been evacuated, leaving many still on board the burning ship even after it was towed to harbour (allegedly the captain and crew were unaware how many passengers had escaped).

Many passengers had difficulty escaping from the fire for several reasons: 1) Many people did not hear the alarms, therefore they did not wake up, 2) They could not find their way out because the thick smoke made it nearly impossible to find the nearest escape routes, 3) The smoke contained poisonous hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide fumes, causing unconsciousness and quick death, and 4) The many Filipinos in the crew did not speak or understand Norwegian or English, were unfamiliar with the ship, and had never practiced a fire drill, so they could not communicate with each other or the passengers and did not know how to respond to the fire.
The ship was towed to Lysekil in Sweden where the fire department managed to put out the fire in 10 hours. As a result of the fire 158 people died (approximately one third of the people on board); another victim died two weeks later from his injuries. One of the women who died was 6 months pregnant. The majority (136) of those killed were Norwegian.
The Scandinavian Star had another fire prior to 1990. On March 15, 1988 while sailing for SeaEscape on a Caribbean cruise, a fire started in the engine room when she was about 50 nautical miles (90 km) northeast of Cancun, Mexico. The ship was carrying 439 passengers and 268 crew members. The ship lost power and her fire fighting oxygen system malfunctioned (it would have let the fire fighters breathe while fighting the fire). The inability of the crew members to communicate with each other and with passengers was a serious concern and created confusion during the fire fighting and evacuation activities.

The burnt ship lay in Copenhagen for a few months until she was towed to Southampton and renamed Candi. In February 1994 she was sold on auction to International Shipping Partners. She was renamed Regal Voyager, sent to Italy for rebuilding and later chartered to Comarit Ferries and put on the route between Tangier and Port Vendres.
In 1997 she was registered for St. Thomas Cruises and put on a route between Port Isabel and Puerto Cortés for Isabel Cortes Ferry Service. Chartered to Ferries del Caribe in 1999 and put on the route Santo Domingo - San Juan.
The ship was laid up in South Carolina in 2003, then sold to Indian shipbreakers in 2004 and renamed to Regal V. She arrived at Alang on May 14, 2004 and the work to get her broken up started five days later.


Anonymous said...

I was working on the Star in 1988 when she caught fire outside Cozumel. You can read my account on my blog:

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