OSLO, Norway (AP) - An "intense" fire in a cruise ship's engine room killed two crewmen Thursday, injured nine others and forced over 200 passengers to evacuate a popular cruise off Norway's craggy western coast. Police suspect an accidental on-board explosion.
Thick black smoke billowed from the stern of the boat, the MS Nordlys, of Norway's Hurtigruten line even before it pulled into the dock at Aalesund, 230 miles northwest of the capital of Oslo. Police sealed off parts of the town as the smoke engulfed nearby buildings.
The ship's emergency evacuation began after the fire started at 9 a.m., with more than 100 passengers piling into lifeboats in the frigid waters. The rest of the ship's 207 passengers and 55 crew were evacuated at the dock at Aalesund, with some crew staying on board to fight the fire.
Aalesund Hospital said nine people had been admitted, two with serious burns and smoke injuries. Police said all of the injured and dead were members of the ship's crew.
"Our suspicion is that there was an explosion in the machine room," Acting Police Chief Yngve Skovly of the Sunnmoere Police District told reporters later Thursday. He had no further details about a possible explosion but police said there was no suspicion of sabotage.
Passengers said the cruise ship, which was traveling north from the city of Bergen, had organized an orderly evacuation.
"We were sent up on deck and given our lifevests," Danielle Passebois-Paya, a French tourist, told Norwegian daily Aftenposten. "It took only a few minutes after the alarm and we were in the lifeboats."
"It was a well-organized evacuation," she added. "The crew did a really good job. Everything was calm and went smoothly. There was no panic."
The chief of Aalesund's fire brigade, Geir Thorsen, described the fire as "big and intense." He could not confirm reports the ship's fire-extinguishing system did not work, but said its electricity system was knocked out.
"There are no indications that the fire had spread to other rooms in the ship," he said.
Over six hours after the fire began, Thorsen said firefighters were now in control of it, but the ship was taking in water and listing 10 degrees.
"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.
The MS Nordlys plies Norway's western coast on the popular 1,500-mile cruise between the southwestern city of Bergen and the northern town of Kirkenes, high above the Arctic Circle near the Russian border. The route features spectacular fjords, mountains, islands and Arctic wildlife, and carries both tourists eager to see the scenery and locals and cargo from coastal cities and hamlets.
Aalesund, with a population of 42,000, is an Art Nouveau town once voted the prettiest in Norway.