The fire aboard the car ferry Sorrento was reported to be under control this afternoon – 24 hours after the evacuation of its 156 passengers and crew.
Spanish news agencies said that the authorities were waiting for it to be completely extinguished before sending personnel aboard the vessel prior to taking it under tow, probably to the port of Palma in Majorca.
A tug from Tarragona on the Spanish mainland was due to arrive on site this afternoon, while Spanish public works minister Ana Pastor was set to chair a meeting in Palma later this afternoon to decide how to proceed with the salvage operation.
So far, there has been no pollution, according to the Spanish authorities, but there are fears that major pollution could occur if the vessel were to sink in its current position some 20 miles off the Majorcan coast.
Fire broke out aboard the vessel in the early afternoon yesterday shortly after it had left Palma for Valencia on the Spanish mainland. A truck driver aboard the vessel said he heard explosions going off like “bombs”.
Passengers and crew stayed aboard the vessel for an hour before the captain gave the order to take to the lifeboats as the fire became more intense.
All passengers were evacuated safely but the Spanish Ministry of Public Works and Transport said that four crew members had had to be picked up by helicopter and taken to hospital in Majorca. Three were subsequently discharged.
The Europa Press news agency reported this morning that a Spanish Navy minesweeper had joined other vessels at the scene to combat the fire still burning aboard the vessel, which was 15 n miles off Majorca when the alarm was raised shortly before 1400 h local time.
The minesweeper, which had been taking part in a naval exercise, was called in to help the firefighting effort by Salvamento Maritimo, the Spanish maritime rescue service. Europa Press said that it was carrying 600 litres of foam-forming liquid which Spanish defence ministry sources said was highly effective in extinguishing fires.
It is not yet known what caused the fire, which, according to the Sorrento’s Spanish operator, Trasmediterranea-Acciona, broke out on the vessel’s number four vehicle deck.
Frightened passengers said afterwards that they considered themselves lucky that the fire had broken out during the day. Had it happened at night, they said, they doubted that they would have been able to escape.
The Spanish Minister of Works, Ana Pastor, said after the rescue that the government’s priority was now to prevent an environmental accident.
“The priority was the people,” she said. “Now we have to avoid any kind of environmental risk. We need to maximise our efforts to minimise the risk.”
The Sorrento is owned by the Italian company Atlantica di Navigazione, part of the Grimaldi group.