Update: Fire-Ravaged Cruise Ship Has Been Stabilized; Passengers Heading Home

September 19, 2011
Video: Cruise Ship Burns Off Coast of Norway

Update, September 19, 10:30 a.m.: According to a statement from Hurtigruten, Nordlys is now stabilized and being cleared of personal belongings and cargo. Currently around 75 passenger await flights home, and they will all leave Alesund today. For those who have not yet had their personal belongings returned, Hurtigruten will arrange for these to be forwarded to their home addresses.

(September 16, 11 a.m. EDT) -- Police and fire investigators are trying to establish the cause of the blaze that crippled Hurtigruten's MS Nordlys yesterday and killed two crewmembers. The damage to the ship is so severe that, according to a statement from the line, it will be out of service until at least mid-October. An engine fire developed as Nordlys was approaching Alesund port on its northbound coastal voyage from Bergen. All 207 passengers, including British citizens and a group of 53 Americans, were evacuated safely, either by lifeboat or simply by walking off once the ship made it to Alesund. Eight crewmembers were taken to the hospital; four remain in serious condition, with burns and smoke inhalation. The ship is still not out of danger. The hull has a hole in it and the vessel is taking on water in port, leading to fears last night that it could capsize. But a team of experts flown in from the Netherlands has managed to pump out some of the water. "We have had confirmation that it is looking more stable now," Hurtigruten managing director Kathryn Beadle told Cruise Critic. At one point the ship was listing nearly 22 degrees; news reports say it has been reduced to 17 degrees. Twenty degrees is considered a critical point. The cause of the fire is as not known at this point, though a report by the Associated Press says Alesund police suspect an explosion in the engine room of unknown origin. At this stage, authorities don't believe it was sabotage or a terrorist attack, the AP continued. Norway is still reeling from a violent attack on a youth camp in July this year, in which a lone gunman murdered 69 young people. Passengers, who are being accommodated in a nearby hotel, are receiving support from multilingual Hurtigruten staff and counselors. "We can't let anybody back on the ship to get their belongings and we don't know when we will be able to, but we have provided them with money and we have an account with a local department store that is supplying clothes," said Beadle. There are challenges for those wanting to continue their journey, which includes the group of Americans, as most passengers' credit cards and passports are still onboard. What's more, although 11 Hurtigruten ships ply the west coast of Norway on a continuous basis, most of them are fully booked, according to Beadle. Even though two-thirds of the cabins on Nordlys were unoccupied at the time of the fire, the ships pick up passengers at every port; by the time they reach Kirkenes, the most northerly point of the round trip, they are usually full. We'll keep you informed as the investigation continues. The telephone helpline for friends and relatives of those who were onboard is +47 47 83 47 00.

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor