TWO men are being questioned by police after a fire on board a ferry sparked an emergency rescue of passengers and forced it to return to the UK.
Two crew members and four passengers had to be winched off the North Sea ferry from Newcastle after breathing in smoke when the blaze broke out in a cabin room 30 miles from the Yorkshire coast shortly before 11pm yesterday.
A 26-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of arson and a 28-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of affray, a spokeswoman for Northumbria Police said.
The fire broke out in a passenger cabin around 10.45pm and was extinguished by 11pm.
RAF helicopters from Leconfield near Hull and Boulmer, Northumberland were scrambled to the vessel along with RNLI lifeboats from Bridlington and Filey.
Some 946 passengers were on board the ferry which was sailing to Amsterdam but has now returned to Newcastle.
Gert Jakobsen, a spokesman for ferry operator DFDS Seaways, said police were speaking with people on board about the incident.
He expects the injured crew and passengers flown to Scarborough Hospital to be released later today.
A further 15 passengers and eight crew members were treated by doctors for smoke-related injuries on board the ship.
Mr Jakobsen said the company will try to help passengers forced to abandon their trip to Amsterdam find alternative crossings.
He said: “We are very sorry for those passengers who have not only been affected by the fire but now by these delays. We are looking at how we can help them.
“The cabin that was burnt is very damaged and there has been some smoke damage to surrounding cabins but the ship’s function has not been affected in any way and is safe to travel.”
Lifeboat charity RNLI said the Humber Coastguard requested the launch of Filey’s Mersey class all-weather lifeboat The Keep Fit Association to the blaze.
Within ten minutes of the call, the lifeboat had launched under the command of Deputy 2nd Coxswain, Richard Johnson.
As the lifeboat arrived at the scene, a small number of passengers had been lifted off by helicopter and it was decided that others could be safely taken back to Newcastle.
Richard Johnson, Filey’s duty Coxswain last night, said: “Luckily the situation resolved itself quite quickly and the helicopters managed to evacuate those needing hospital treatment.
“RNLI crews are always trained to respond to any kind of emergency and this was potentially a major incident.”
Jamie Petterson, who was on board with his 10-year-old son Harry, said passengers initially believed the evacuation was a drill.
He told BBC News: “People were singing the Rod Stewart sailing song and the theme from Titanic. To be honest it was treated rather as a little joke.
“But I think we got a bit more serious when we saw people sort of crying. There was a strong smell of smoke as we left the ship - we were on the tenth deck - so we realised it was a little more serious. And I think the way the crew acted, we found it was serious then.”
Passenger Lynn Smith-Davies told Sky News: “At first we thought; ‘what’s that funny noise coming over the Tannoy,’ then we got the announcement there was a fire on board and we all had to evacuate.
“We all had to go out on deck. Of course it was 10-11 o’clock at night. It was cold, it was dark. It was must have been very distressing for people with small children.”
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