Salvage teams reported progress on Friday as they pumped water from a tilting Norwegian cruise liner in danger of capsizing, a day after a fire on board killed two crew members and forced the evacuation of 260 other people.
The MS Nordlys, which tilted critically at an angle of 21.7 degrees in the morning, had slowly righted itself and was listing at 16 degrees in the evening as additional pumps spewed water from the slanting ship's bowels, officials said.
Police Chief Jon Steven Hasseldal was optimistic but cautious. "This has been a positive development, but it is not over," Hasseldal told reporters in the town of Aalesund, 230 miles northwest of the capital of Oslo.
Five pumps were installed in the ship during the day after salvage teams were forced to leave the vessel in the night for fear it might capsize as more water gushed in.
"We have not managed to seal all holes in the hull," Hasseldal said, but added that they were pumping out more water that was coming in.
The MS Nordlys is one of 12 Hurtigruten shipping line vessels that ply Norway's craggy coast on the popular 1,500-mile route to the northeastern town of Kirkenes, high above the Arctic Circle and near the Russian border.
An explosive fire in the engine room on Thursday morning caused the evacuation of the ship, with 207 passengers and 55 crew on board. All the passengers were evacuated safely into lifeboats or after the boat pulled into harbor.
Two Norwegian crew members, aged 18 and 57, were found dead in the engine room while nine others were admitted to hospital, two with serious injuries, including from burns and smoke inhalation. Three rescue workers were treated for mild injuries from inhaling smoke.
'There was no panic'
Thick black smoke billowed from the stern of the ship when it sailed into Aalesund, forcing police to temporarily seal off parts of the town as smoke engulfed nearby buildings.
Passengers reported that the evacuation was orderly and calm.
"It was a well-organized evacuation," Danielle Passebois-Paya, a French tourist, said. "The crew did a really good job. Everything was calm and went smoothly. There was no panic."
Tommy Didriksen, one of crew members, said the fire caught them off-guard.
"It was an inferno, it happened unbelievably fast," Didriksen told reporters. "We just had to get people evacuated."
Hurtigruten said it was organizing emergency passports and providing money for passengers, some of whom had to leave their belongings on the boat during the evacuation. Some passengers have already headed home, officials said.
The shipping line's CEO Olav Fjell said that finding alternative transport for those who wanted to continue their journey to northern Norway along the coast would be difficult.
"Our other ships are fully booked so it has been difficult for us to find alternatives for those who would like to continue their journey," Fjell said.