Ferry drifting off Yarmouth after fire
FIREFIGHTERS from Ipswich were part of a rescue team sent today to battle a blaze on board a North Sea ferry with 611 passengers aboard.An air sea rescue helicopter from Wattisham was also on standby near the stricken P&O ferry, Norsea which was adrift without power eight miles north east of Great Yarmouth.
FIREFIGHTERS from Ipswich were part of a rescue team sent today to battle a blaze on board a North Sea ferry with 611 passengers aboard.
An air sea rescue helicopter from Wattisham was also on standby near the stricken P&O ferry, Norsea which was adrift without power eight miles north east of Great Yarmouth.
The fire broke out during the early hours of the morning and passengers were told to report to the decks and put lifebelts on.
The blaze was eventually put out four hours later and the ferry was able to continue to its planned destination of Zeebrugge on reduced power.
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It was the second fire on board the Norsea in quick succession – two-and-a-half-weeks ago fire broke out in the vessel's funnel uptake area.
Two of the vessel's crew members were injured in that incident.
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Today coastguards were alerted at 2.20am after a fire broke out in the engine room immobilising the vessel.
The blaze was extinguished by the ship's own automatic fire system at about 6.30am.
After today's blaze the ferry was drifting about eight miles north east of Great Yarmouth.
But it will continue the crossing to Zeebrugge using the power from its other engine room, and was expected to dock in the Belgian port later this afternoon.
The ferry's own fire crew, and firefighters from the RAF and Suffolk Fire Brigade who were airlifted on to the ship during the emergency, confirmed that the flames were now out.
They have opened the engine room at the back of the ferry and are making a thorough investigation, looking for potential "hot spots."
Once the fire began, at around 2.20am, the ferry's own fire system was automatically activated.
The engine room was shut down and carbon dioxide was pumped in to extinguish the flames.
Hundreds of passengers donned life-jackets and were told to muster at emergency points on deck.
Two RAF Sea King helicopters were scrambled from Wattisham in Suffolk and Leconfield, North Yorkshire, to join the rescue effort.
Yarmouth Coastguard spokesman Mark Clark said the first alert came through a satellite telephone call from the Norsea at 2.20am.
The captain reported there were no injuries on board due to the fire, although there was concern for a woman passenger who suffered from angina.
Earlier, a rescue Nimrod from RAF Kinloss in Moray, Scotland, was prepared to join the rescue, along with another helicopter from Belgium, but these were later stood down.
Lifeboats from Gorleston, Lowestoft and Caister were sent to the scene.
Nine other vessels in the area, mainly tugs which service nearby oil and gas rigs, were put on stand-by.
A second P&O ferry, the Pride of Rotterdam, was also diverted to the area to assist.
Mr Clark said ferries such as the Norsea were designed so that if there was an engine room fire, the area was shut down automatically and carbon dioxide was pumped in to extinguish the blaze.
"That smothers the fire, but you then have to wait before you can open the doors again to check for hot spots, as this supply of oxygen would just re-ignite the fire,' he said.
The ferry was on its usual route between Hull and Zeebrugge when the fire broke out.
It set off at 7pm yesterday and was about seven hours into the 12-hour crossing when the blaze began.
The weather in the area was reported to be calm.
Last month's fire began just 15 minutes after the ferry set sail from Hull. Two crew members suffered "minor injuries' and were discharged after treatment.
That blaze was extinguished by the ship's crew 30 minutes after being discovered, and the ship was again able to continue the voyage to Zeebrugge.
The Norsea is a 31,000-tonne ferry, which was launched by the Queen Mother in 1986.
It normally has a crew of 107. It is 179 metres long and 25 metres wide, with a passenger capacity of 1,250.
The Norsea can also carry 850 cars or 180 lorries.
It has 446 cabins, bars, a restaurant and dance floors, shops and children's playroom.
It also has two 24-person lifeboats, four larger lifeboats and 44 inflatable life-rafts.