11th November 2006
On the night of April 7, 1990, a fire broke out on the French built ferry 'MS Scandinavian Star'. It was the start of a two decade long story full of controversy and accusations.
Before its assignment to the route between Oslo and Frederikshavn, Scandinavian Star had been a casino ship. As such, its sudden shift in assignment for passenger ferrying required an entirely new crew, with new capacities. They were given a mere ten days, as opposed to the six to eight weeks required, to learn the ship and all its personalities in and out. Additionally, many members of the crew were unable to speak either Danish, English, or Norwegian, further hampering their effectiveness.
Shortly before the tragedy struck, the insurance company "Skuld" had dispatched a man named Erik Stein to inspect the ship. He had noted that, among many other things, the fire preparedness of the ship was insufficient and it had defective fire doors.
And then tragedy struck. At 2 a.m on April 7, 1990, a fire broke out and was discovered by passengers. They managed to extinguish it, but a mere 15 minutes later, a second fire broke out on an unoccupied section of the ship. As melamine resin was used for decorative lamination, the fire was easily fed by the flammable material and spread very quickly, developing both toxic hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide gasses.
Thanks to the defective bulkhead fire doors, the captain was unable to close off the deck where the fire originated properly. Without properly functioning facilities, the fire was fed through the ventilation system and rapidly spread across several decks. As the situation escalated, the captain and crew decided to evacuate the ship, leaving behind a number of passengers.
Now, that alone should've been the end of the story. A tragedy that could've been avoided with proper security, right?
No, it gets worse. A Danish truck driver who perished in the fire was initially charged by the Norwegian authorities as the perpetrator, due to being a previously convicted arsonist. His family objected, naturally, as did many others who found the Norwegian investigation to be, quite frankly, lacking.
In 2009, an investigation was carried out that determined it would've been impossible for a single person to have started all of the fires, especially if they weren't familiar with the ship itself. In 2013, a report was prepared by the Foundation for Arson Investigation Scandinavian Star, claiming that the Danish truck driver had perished in one of the earlier fires, up to nine hours before the last fire was set. The same report acuses a number of new crew members that had recently joined the ship, of setting six of the fires and sabotaging a number of the features supposed to keep the ship stable.
In 2014, Norwegian police re-opened the investigation and finally dropped the charges against the Danish truck driver. They did not, however, find any other reasonable suspect.
Finally, this year, a retired Danish investigator, who had been in charge of the post-fire investigation 26 years before, came forth to announce his own thoughts. He stated that not only had a number of escapes and fire doors been blocked off with mattresses, but a third flare-up had happened after all passengers had been evacuated, and that the actions of a few crew members were extremely suspicious(including, but not limited to, bogus claims of having to keep the ship stable through actions that were entirely unnecessary and only delayed the firefighters).
The investigators points to the chief mechanic as the perpetrator, but notes that a number of other crew members would've had to have witnessed his actions.
9th October 2007
I vaguely remember this from a few years back. Interesting indeed. Could just as well been resentful crewmembers pissed by the lack of training and what have you.
Any info on what happened to the crew subsequently?
11th November 2006
No word on the whereabouts of the crew. I imagine there's some information if you dig deep enough.
I uncovered an old report from the Danish Justice Ministry from July 2006, that says they don't see any reason to consider Niels Erik Lund Sea-Escape(registered owner) to be responsible or connected, nor receive any economic benefit from the fire.
However, I did find another article by someone who did some more thorough digging, and uncovered that SeaEscape, based out of Miami, had insured the ship for about 24 million DKK just a week before the fire. Keep in mind the "expertly trained crew" had been picked up in Tampa, in Florida, not long before the fire.
Supposedly there are also rumours that other ships associated with SeaEscape have had mysterious fires. I decided to dig into this.
Turns out, in 1984, another SeaEscape ship, the M/V Scandinavian Sea, caught fire seven miles off the coast of Port Carnaveral, Florida.
No lives were lost in the 1984 Scandinavian Sea fire, but the ship was unable to be saved. It was absolutely destroyed by the fire, spreading faster than the firefighting crew could manage. One of the attributed causes of the failure was a waiter and plumber trying to put out the fire with a portable fire extinguisher, wasting time when there was a fire fighting hose with water hook-up nearby.