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Screenshot of SVT.se news story. Video images shows Stena Scandica only minutes away from very shallow waters near the island of Gotland, Sweden. Photo: Swedish Marine Rescue Society
07 Dec 2022

Passenger ferry literally minutes from disaster after onboard fire in August

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The fire onboard had burnt off all electrical communication cables between the ferry bridge deck and the machine deck. The ship was drifting out of control.

The passenger ferry Stena Scandica was very close to a complete catastrophe on August 29, 2022. A fire onboard had made the ship drift aimlessly towards rocky shallow waters and was minutes from a capsizing with 241 passengers on board.

According to an article on SVT.se, the Swedish Coast Guard and the Fire Services of the Greater Stockholm region have now revealed to the public exactly how close to disaster the ferry Stena Scandica actually was during a fire last summer. 

The ferry sent the MayDay call 38 minutes past midnight on August 29. "This is Stena Scandica. We have a fire onboard." 

The passenger ferry was then located south west of the small island of Gotska Sandön, just north of Gotland, Sweden.

It has been confirmed the fire had started in a truck on cargo deck, which then spread to vital parts of the ship. 

 

Fire destroyed the communications - the ship drifted towards shallow waters  

The Swedish Coast Guard set course for the coordinates with their rescue ship, and a special marine firefighting crew (a MIRG-team)  was sent from Stockholm by a rescue helicopter. The marine fire rescue team was winched down on deck from the helicopter  while still in the air, during strong winds.    

"By the time we got onboard, the ship crew had managed to extinguish the fire themselves. But the big problem was that the ship was drifting uncontrollably out at sea", Kristoffer Wahter, regional officer for the Greater Stockholm marine rescue team said to Swedish Television in a news story aired on Monday December 5.  

According to Jimmie Broth, operations coordinator for the Greater Stockholm marine fire rescue team, the fire onboard had burnt off all electrical communication cables between the ferry bridge deck and the machine deck. Both the main cables, and the emergency cables system, had been destroyed and could not be used. 

"This meant that the ship could not be steered or maneuvered at all", Jimmy Broth said in the news clip. 

 

Managed to rewire the burnt cables 

At the time, the weather conditions were difficult. Strong winds were pushing the ferry closer and closer to the island of Gotland, which was a great worry for everyone onboard. The extreme danger lay in the fact that the water depth near northern Gotland would decrease very sharply from 70 meters (229 feet) to only 3 meters (10 feet) depth a certain distance from shore. The ship was quickly approaching that point. 

According to Jimmy Broth, hitting the shallow water near the shore would likely have meant a total loss of the ship. 

From the moment the marine rescue team and the Swedish Coast Guard arrived,  evacuation efforts had been started by making sure all passengers had life vests on and were being prepared to stay on standby if life boats would need to be used. 

Because of the rough waters and high winds, using the lifeboats was seen as the very last resort. The ferry crew and the rescue teams were working intensely to solve the communication issue between the bridge and machine deck. 

In the very last moments, they were able to rewire the communication system and take control of the ship again by starting up some of the main engines. With only minutes to spare before hitting the shallows, the ship could once again steer towards safe waters.

"We were very lucky that day.... We were all on high alert and had started evacuation procedures...  It was very close", says Jimmy Broth to Swedish Television. 

 

Photo Credit: Screenshot of SVT.se news story. Video images shows Stena Scandica only minutes away from very shallow waters near the island of Gotland, Sweden. Photo: Swedish Marine Rescue Society