IRISH FERRIES, then B&I, first established its Pembroke Dock-Rosslare ferry line in 1979 after the construction of a £ 6million ferry terminal on the River Cleddau in Pembrokeshire.
For 11 years, they operated the route without serious incident, but that would all change on April 8, 1990.
The MS Norröna was launched on February 10, 1973 as Gustav Vasa in Rendsburg, Germany. The ship was a car ferry built for the route from Malmö in Sweden to Travemünde in Germany, a route she operated without problem for 10 years.
In 1983, the Gustav Vasa was sold to the Faroe Islands-based Smyril Line and renamed MS Norröna. She will spend the next 7 years covering the roads of Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands, to the Shetland Islands, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.
The ship was also often leased to other ferry companies if they needed to cover their routes, so the Norröna ended up covering the route from Pembroke Dock to Rosslare for B&I in April 1990.
The ferry left the Pembroke wharf at around 10 p.m. with 200 passengers and 78 crew on board and began the routine 60 mile crossing to Rosslare, which at the time took about 4 hours.
At around midnight, 2 hours after the start of the crossing, a sailor saw smoke coming from the unoccupied cabins on the C-deck of the 9,000-ton vessel and sounded the alarm, but the vessel was already filling with smoke. .
Paris store manager Mr John Fitzpatrick, 42 at the time, said he and his family owed their lives to his tendency to sleep light as he was awakened by the smell of smoke in their cabin.
Mr Fitzpatrick, of Golders Green in London, immediately woke his sleeping family, his wife Norah, 41, and daughter Clare, 7, told them to get dressed and together they started crawling on the ground to get out of danger.
Once the captain was informed of the fire on board, the vessel immediately turned around and returned to Pembroke Dock. But the quick wit of the crew, who no doubt saved lives, failed to save everyone and the fire aboard the MS Norröna ended up costing a life, that of a man believed to be a truck driver, died from smoke inhalation. two bridges over where the fire started.
Coast Guard spokesman George Clarke said firefighters and crew brought the blaze under control within two hours of receiving the captain’s distress call.
Three RAF helicopters were used to evacuate the wounded and bring firefighters and medics aboard the ship.
31 passengers, most of whom were suffering from smoke inhalation, required overnight treatment at Withybush General Hospital in Haverfordwest, with a woman in her 20s receiving intensive care there.
A second woman also needed intensive care, but was transferred to West Wales Hospital in Carmarthen.
The less seriously injured passengers were released after being interviewed by Dyfed-Powys police officers who also took their fingerprints to aid their investigation.
B&I Marine Superintendent Captain Peter McKenna told Irish Radio: “The cabins are not normally locked, but the area has not been allocated to passengers for this particular navigation. The cabins were close to each other in the same section. ″
McKenna said the company believed lit mattresses or paper started the fire.
Deputy Police Chief Eifion Pritchard said the fire was being treated as a criminal investigation.
He said at the time: “We don’t know the cause at this time, but there is reason to suspect that it may not have started accidentally.”
He also declined to comment on reports that the fire on board the Norröna started at two separate locations on the ferry’s C deck, which was a crew accommodation area that passengers could not access.
The strangest aspect of this whole situation is that the fire aboard the MS Norröna was the third fatal fire aboard European ferries in just three days.
On April 7, 1990, at 2 a.m., a fire was discovered aboard the Scandinavian Star, a ferry traveling between Norway and Denmark which for various reasons such as the malfunction of the fire doors and the barrier of the language, killed 200 people, including the life of the arsonist accused of having started the fatal fire.
Then the fire of the MS Norröna took place on April 8.
Finally, on April 9, a ferry christened Reine Mathilde was 13 miles from the Isle of Wight on the Portsmouth – Caen route when a fire broke out in the engine room. A crew member fighting the fire inhaled smoke and a 66-year-old passenger suffered a heart attack and died despite the efforts of two medics, who were already on the ship, to rescue him.
theMS Norröna was refitted after the fire, in 2004 she was renamed and now operates as a Christian outreach vessel.
No one has ever been charged with the fire aboard the MS Norröna, which claimed one person’s life, although it has been described by Dyfed-Powys officers as “non-accidental”.