Two held after fire on ferry causes high seas emergency rescue
Two men have been arrested after a fire on board a ferry sparked an emergency rescue and forced it to return to Newcastle, England
Two crew members and four passengers had to be winched off the North Sea ferry after they breathed in smoke when the blaze broke out in a cabin room 30 miles from land around 11pm last night.
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.
Passengers began leaving the ferry this morning after arriving back at the Tyneside port.
Some 946 passengers were on board the ferry which was sailing to Amsterdam.
Gert Jakobsen, a spokesman for ferry operator DFDS Seaways, said earlier that police were in control of the King Seaways cruise ferry and were speaking with people on board about the incident.
He added that the ferry would not be continuing its journey and instead will wait until its next scheduled departure to Amsterdam tomorrow morning.
The passenger suspected of starting the fire had been detained on board by ship staff while it sailed back to the port, 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.
Mr Jakobsen added that 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.
He said the company will try to help passengers forced to abandon their trip to Amsterdam find alternative crossings.
"We are very sorry for those passengers who have not only been affected by the fire but now by these delays," he said.
"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."
Passenger Steven Basford said he was kept on the ferry while police went door-to-door to speak to those on board.
The 28-year-old, from Northumberland, who was travelling to Amsterdam with his partner Vic Liang to celebrate New Year with friends, said a fight broke out between two male passengers during the evacuation.
He told the Press Association: "We were in our room at about 10.40pm last night when they raised the general fire or emergency alarm with seven high pitched siren noises.
"We were told to evacuate outside the ship and when we got outside they asked us to converge around the lifeboats.
"The fire was on our floor but on the other side of the ship. When we climbed up to the communal area we could see the smoke. It wasn't thick but it was definitely noticeable.
"People were generally pretty calm. Obviously people had had a lot to drink. It's a bit of a party boat. Two big blokes started brawling."
Another passenger on board said she was forced to evacuate to the outer deck when the alarm was raised.
"We were all sat upstairs when the alarm went off and the captain came on the tannoy and told us to evacuate to the outer deck because there was a fire," Olivia Elliott told Sky News.
"We were out there for about 40 minutes and then we had to wait in the nightclub area.
"We don't know when we will be allowed to leave the ship."
A police spokeswoman said: "We received a report from the coastguard at around 12.05am of a suspected arson on board a ferry on the North Sea.
"Officers from Northumbria Police are working with DFDS Seaways and other partners to assist with the situation.
"Two men have been arrested - a 26-year-old man on suspicion of arson and a 28-year-old man on suspicion of affray.
"Both men are helping police inquiries."
According to the DFDS Seaways website, the 26-year-old vessel has room for over 1,500 passengers and 600 cars. It was renovated in 2006.
It offers entertainment including restaurants, bars, a nightclub and a casino.
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."
Passengers hugged family members in relief at the ferry terminal when they were finally allowed off, with some vowing never to sail again.
Julie Bell and Shaun Richardson, from Washington, Tyne and Wear, were on a weekend away.
She said: "It was like a scene from a movie, a chaotic mess, horrible.
"It was terrifying and I won't be travelling by boat again. I think I will stay in the UK from now on, it's a lot safer."
Mr Richardson said when passengers were told to muster on deck, it was clear some youngsters had been asleep in their cabins.
"There were lots of children with no socks or shoes on. They must have just got out of bed," he said.
Jake Nipper, an 18-year-old fitter from South Shields, South Tyneside, said people had heard the fire was caused by someone who fell asleep while smoking in a cabin.
"It has spoiled everyone else's holidays," he said.
"We have been stuck on that boat for hours now. I'm tired and I just want to go home."
Karl McMurrough, 18, from Pennywell, Sunderland, said: "We all got rushed on to the deck, there were helicopters, kids squealing, life jackets.
"They were telling us to keep calm but they weren't giving us any information."
Asked about passengers fighting, he said: "There were a few people going wild - no-one knew what was going on.
"I'm never going on a boat again, I'm horrified."
One passenger travelling with his family said it was only when the helicopters arrived above the ferry that people began to realise the situation was serious.
The father of two small girls said: "I was at the window and I could see the helicopter and it was quite dramatic.
"That's when actually everyone started panicking, because until then everyone thought it was a small fire, but when we saw the helicopter we thought it was something major."
He praised DFDS staff for their efforts throughout the night.
RMT General Secretary Bob Crow thanked the emergency services.
He said: "RMT has nothing but praise for the calm and professional manner in which the workforce dealt with the emergency situation that unfolded in the North Sea last night.
"RMT would also like to express our thanks to the emergency services and the RAF whose swift and decisive actions in last night's dangerous conditions are a credit to their professions."