Fire Onboard the MS Scandinavian Star

Dan Gold

On April 7th, 1990, a blazing fire started aboard the passenger ship MS Scandinavian Star resulting in a disaster that claimed the lives of 159 people onboard.

At around 2 am while most of the passengers onboard were fast asleep, the Scandinavian was cruising through the Skagerrak, the strait that separates Denmark from Norway and Sweden when a second fire broke out on the third deck of the passenger section. The flames which could have been initially controlled quickly spiraled out of control.

A later investigation concluded that no natural origin for the second fire and was deliberately set. The first fire 15 minutes earlier on the same deck was discovered by on of the passengers and put out.

The Scandinavian Star built in 1971, its bulkheads structure was constructed using steel with asbestos wall boards, a melamine resin laminate was used as a decorative covering and was later proved during testing to be highly flammable and was thought to be part of the reason why the fire spread through Deck 3.

The laminates that were burning also produced high amounts of toxic carbon monoxide gasses while spreading to Deck 4 and 5.

When the captain was informed of the fires, his first reaction was to close off the bulkhead fire doors on Deck 3. The doors had not been configured to automatically close and didn’t respond since the emergency alarms nearby were never manually triggered by any of the crew or passengers.

The vehicle storage area which was near Deck 3 was ventilated by exhaust fans, the fans which were pulling fumes through an improperly secured fire door caused the fire to rapidly spread to Deck 4 and 5 via stairways. The captain ordered for the ventilation system to be switched off after discovering the fans were feeding the fire. Unforeseen by the captain, turning off the ventilation system caused smoke to enter the passenger cabins via door vents.

Many tried to escape the smoke and sought refuge in bathrooms and closets, but were eventually overcome by smoke.

The captain ordered for alarms to be activated and ordered everyone to abandon ship before sending out a mayday request. The captain and poorly trained crew members abandoned ship leaving many of the passengers still on board the burning ship.

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