Ferry fire, passenger ire

More than 1,000 passengers aboard one of Greece’s most modern high-speed ferries, the Knossos Palace, had to don life jackets and assemble on the ship’s decks early yesterday when a truck carrying chemicals caught fire in the garage. The fire was extinguished by the ship’s sprinkler system and crew members. But after the ship arrived in the Cretan port of Iraklion, it took over three hours for all passengers to disembark through emergency exits as the cables providing power to the drawbridge had been damaged in the fire. Officials used mobile stairs belonging to Olympic Airways and fire brigade hydraulic lifts to get passengers off the ship. Of the 1,040 passengers and 116 crew members, three elderly passengers were treated for breathing problems. Twenty-eight vehicles were damaged. Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Paschalidis ordered an inquiry into whether regulations had been followed in loading a truck carrying inflammable substances and whether Iraklion’s port had the necessary safety equipment to deal with such emergencies. The general secretary of the region of Crete, Athanassios Karountzos, filed suit against anyone found to be responsible in the incident, charging that port authorities had no safety equipment and saying his coordination had got everyone safely off the ship. He noted that the incident raised safety issues ahead of the Athens 2004 Olympics, when Iraklion will host some soccer matches. The Knossos Palace, which can carry 2,200 passengers and 600 cars, left Piraeus for Iraklion at 9 p.m. on Tuesday. A truck loaded with 30 tons of agricultural chemicals, acetone and cosmetics caught fire at 3.40 a.m. yesterday when the ship was 40 nautical miles northwest of Iraklion. Initial hypotheses were that the acetone may have come into contact with other chemicals, starting the fire. The alarm went off and passengers were helped to don life jackets as they assembled at muster stations. The Merchant Marine Ministry ordered nearby ships to the scene, with the Kriti II and Aegean Glory ferries and coast guard vessels getting there quickly. A Super Puma rescue helicopter was standing by. After the fire was put out, the ship arrived in Iraklion at about 6.20 a.m. By 9.45 all passengers had disembarked. Many of them accused port officials of disorganization. The Knossos Palace was delivered to Minoan Lines in early 2001.