Police suspect an explosion in a ship's engine room caused the fire that killed two crew members, injured nine, and forced passengers to evacuate a popular cruise off Norway's craggy western coast Thursday as heavy smoke billowed from the boat.
"Our suspicion is that there was an explosion in the machine room," Acting Police Chief Yngve Skovly of the Sunnmoere Police District told reporters Thursday. He had no further details, but police said there was no suspicion of sabotage.
Operator Hurtigruten ASA said nine other crew members were taken to the hospital, two with serious burns and smoke injuries. The rest of the ship's 207 passengers and 55 crew on board the MS Nordlys were taken to safety.
"It's incredibly sad to receive news that we have lost two people," Hurtigruten's administrative manager Olav Fjell told the Norwegian news agency NTB. "Even one is too many."
Head of the fire brigade in Aalesund Geir Thorsen said they are in control of the fire, but the ship is taking in water and listing.
"Our main challenge now is the stability of the ship," he said. Two units of firefighters specializing in offshore fires were involved in the operation.
Thorsen described the fire as "big and intense." He could not confirm reports that the fire-extinguishing system onboard the ship did not work, but said the electricity system was knocked out.
"There are no indications that the fire had spread to other rooms in the ship," he said.
Evacuation started after the fire began at 9:20 a.m. local time (3:20 a.m. ET) on Thursday, before it was due to call in at the port of Aalesund, 230 miles (375 kilometers) northwest of the capital Oslo. More than 100 passengers were evacuated into lifeboats before the ship reached port.
Danielle Passebois-Paya, a French tourist, told Norwegian daily Aftenposten that the evacuation went smoothly.
"We were sent up on deck and given our lifevests. It took only a few minutes after the alarm and we were in the lifeboats," she said. "It was a well-organized evacuation. The crew did a really good job. Everything went calm and smoothly. There was no panic."
The remaining passengers and remaining crew left the vessel as smoke continued to billow from the boat, and were sent to a nearby hotel.
Television footage showed thick, black smoke rising from the ship, currently docked in Aalesund. Police said they sealed off parts of the Alesund because of smoke from the fire.
The Nordlys, operating on the popular tourist route from Bergen to the northern regions above the Polar circle, was close to the port of Aalesund in Western Norway when a fire started.
Aalesund, with a population of 42,000, is known as an art nouveau town and a popular tourist attraction once voted the prettiest in Norway.
According to the website of operator Hurtigruten the 1994-built Nordlys can carry 691 passengers.