More than 500 passengers and crew were evacuated on Wednesday from a burning ship about a mile off Puerto Rico’s north coast, and many required medical care, though there were no reported fatalities.
The fire continued to burn aboard the Caribbean Fantasy, a combination cruise and ferry ship, as the U.S. Coast Guard brought passengers into the San Juan harbor while helicopters whirred overheard. Other agencies and even private vessels joined in the effort before firefighters were ordered to abandon the ship.
“The boat’s systems have collapsed. It’s not safe anymore to work inside the boat,” said Angel Crespo, director of Puerto Rico’s Emergency Management Agency.
The Coast Guard said all passengers and crew were evacuated. Federal authorities were interviewing the captain, Crespo added.
The fire apparently had been burning for some time before the alarm was sounded.
Gyno Funes told The Associated Press he was one of two mechanics in the control room when a hose carrying fuel burst open and caught on fire.
“We were trying to extinguish it for two hours, but couldn’t,” said the other mechanic, Marlon Doblado, after the two reached shore.
Dominican passenger Maria Prensa said she was collecting her luggage when she smelled smoke. “I asked and they told me it was nothing, that it was under control,” she said.
Officials with American Cruise Ferries, which operates the ship, did not return messages for comment about the fire.
On the docks, several dozen people were carried in on stretchers, one of which held a man hooked to an IV line who was cradling a bawling newborn baby clad only in a diaper.
The injured were followed by a small group of children who held hands as they disembarked the Coast Guard boats.
The mostly Dominican passengers included dozens of school-age athletes headed to competitions in Puerto Rico, including a 22-member cycling team, a girls’ volleyball team and a boys’ baseball team.
Passengers found to be in good health were loaded onto city buses to be taken to the ship’s original destination, where they went through customs.
They included Fiordalise Pitchard, who traveled to Puerto Rico on vacation.
“I feel nervous,” she said, her hands trembling. “I was in the restaurant when I saw the smoke. I’m giving all the glory to the Lord today.”