Mega Disasters Seconds From Disaster Fire on board the Star
MS Scandinavian Star, originally named MS Massalia and also known by other names (see infobox), was a car and passenger ferry built in France in 1971. The ship was set on fire in 1990, killing 159 people.
M/S Massalia was built by Dubigeon-Normandie S.A. in 1971 and delivered to Compagnie de Paquebots 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 St. Petersburg, Florida and Tampa, Florida to Cozumel, Mexico.
In 1990, the Scandinavian Star was sold to Vognmandsruten and put into service on DA-NO Linjen's route between Oslo, Norway, and Frederikshavn, Denmark. As the ship had been converted from a casino ship to a passenger ferry, a new crew needed to be trained and were given just ten days to learn new responsibilities. Master mariner Captain Emma Tiller, interviewed for the National Geographic Channel's documentary series Seconds from Disaster, stated that six to eight weeks would be a reasonable period to train a crew for a ship of the Star's size. The documentary went on to explain that many of the crew could not speak English, Norwegian or Danish, thus further reducing the effectiveness of the response to the emergency. The insurance company Skuld's technical leader, Erik Stein, had inspected the ship shortly before, and had declared the fire preparedness deficient, for among other reasons because of defective fire doors.
During the night of 7 April 1990, at about 2 a.m. local time, fire broke out in an unoccupied portion of Deck 3 within the passenger section of the ship. The subsequent investigation found no natural origin for the second fire and concluded it was deliberately set. A previous fire nearby started about 15 minutes earlier, and was discovered by a passenger and extinguished, and may have been started deliberately. Although the bulkheads were made of steel structure with asbestos wall boards, a melamine resin laminate was used as a decorative covering and proved extremely flammable in subsequent testing, spreading fire throughout Deck 3. The burning laminates produced toxic hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide gases. The fire then spread to Deck 4 and Deck 5.
When the captain learned of the fire, he attempted to close the bulkhead fire doors on Deck 3. The fire doors were not configured for fully automatic closing and did not respond since emergency alarms near the doors had not been manually triggered by passengers or crew. A vehicle storage area ventilated by large fans to remove exhaust fumes was also located nearby, and the fans pulled air through an improperly secured fire door and caused rapid fire progress from Deck 3 through Deck 4 and Deck 5 via stairways located on either end. The captain later ordered his crew to turn off the ventilation system when he realized it was feeding the fire, and an unintended result was that smoke was able to enter passenger cabins via the door vents. Some tried to seek refuge from the smoke in areas such as closets and bathrooms, but were eventually overcome by smoke. Those who tried to escape may have variously encountered thick smoke, confusing corridor layouts, and poorly trained crew members. The captain ordered the general alarms to be activated, told everyone to abandon ship, and sent out a mayday request. The captain and crew ultimately abandoned ship before all passengers were evacuated, leaving many still on board the burning ship even after it was towed to the harbor