The passenger vessel Vognmandsruten SS Scandinavian Star was cruising between Oslo in Norway and Fredrikshavn in Denmark on April 7, 1990 when fire broke out resulting in 159 deaths..
There were 99 crew members and 383 passengers on board. Most passengers came from Norway, some from Denmark and a few from Sweden. Some of the crew members came from other countries.
At 2:00am local time, a fire started on the Scandinavian Star, that resulted in the deaths of 159 passengers.
The first fire on board started shortly before 2 AM when the ship had reached open water. A pile of bedclothes and carpets in a corridor on the port side had been set on fire. The fire was discovered by some passengers and extinguished.
A second fire was started in another corridor, likely also a pile of laundry that had been set on fire.
Tests showed that huge amounts of hydrogen-cyanide (HCN) was produced when the surface lining material combusted. The concentration in the breeding gas would cause death of people within 5 minutes.
Event reconstruction experiments showed that the combination of the narrow corridor and the reaction to fire properties of the laminate onto the asbestos board set the corridor very rapidly in a flash-over situation. It was mainly the surface laminate lining (1.6 mm) with its melamine finishing that gave the energy to the fire and the production of the lethal gases. The fact that the substrate of asbestos had low heat conductivity also contributed to the flash over conditions.
The ship was not equipped with sprinkler systems or any other automatic fire fighting system, any automatic fire detection or alarm system.
The crew members were of different nationalities and communicated purely by hand signals, and they were not trained for fire fighting or rescue operations.
During the fire captain ordered his Filipino crew to turn off air conditioning system as the captain imagined it was feeding air to the fire. After this was done smoke entered cabins suffocating trapped passengers. The captain and his crew also abandoned ship without evacuating passengers. Many passengers were still onboard the burning ship after it was towed to harbor.
Mayday" was broadcast from "Scandinavian Star" at 02.24 AM. The position in the Skagerrak was initially incorrectly given, placing the vessel in Norwegian territory. The maritime rescue coordinating center in Norway was therefore appointed to lead the rescue work. The correct position turned out to be on Swedish territory, 11 nautical miles west of Väderöarna.
The ship was towed to Lysekil in Sweden where fire department managed to put out the fire in 10 hours. The crime investigation stated that the fire was started by a pyromaniac.
Scandinavian Star was built in France in 1971.