The deck of the M/S Langøysund tour boat caught fire in Isfjorden shortly before noon on Thursday, according to The Governor of Svalbard.but was extinguished by the crew a short time later with no major injuries to the 34 people aboard, but one crew member was treated at Longyearbyen Hospital for smoke inhalation.
The fire was reported to the Joint Rescue Coordination Centres at 11:34 a.m., according to a statement by the governor. The cause of the fire has not yet been officially determined, but Gaute Haaversen-Werthassel, a passenger on the boat, said it started on the front deck when the crew was preparing a barbecue grill for the midday meal.
“Suddenly the left side of the deck caught fire and it spread pretty quickly,” he said. “About 10 to 15 of us moved toward the front of the boat because the fire was moving in fast. It was pretty scary.”
The passengers were forced toward the front end of the boat because the way toward the back was blocked and eventually some began fearing for their lives, Haaversen-Werthassel said.
“It was hard to see; people were cramming toward the front of the boat,” he said. “Then suddenly we managed to get back because the side was free from fire. I think they may have been getting it under control.”
The crew of the Langøysund sent a message at 11:57 a.m. stating the fire had been extinguished. The boat suffered extensive damage to its front deck, but apparently no serious mechanical damage.
The Norwegian Coast Guard’s Svalbard vessel, which was in Pyramiden when the fire was reported, responded to the call while the governor’s office made preparations for a full-scale response if necessary.
“We prepared two helicopters, a light boat from the governor’s office, smoke divers from the fire department and put Longyearbyen Hospital on full alert,” Police Chief Lt. Lisbeth Oddveig Hansen told Svalbardposten.
She told the newspaper in a subsequent interview Thursday afternoon the fire “was bigger than expected” and a crew member was taken to the hospital for treatment.
The Langøysund, which is owned by Henningsen Transport & Guiding, sent a message at 11:57 a.m. stating the fire was under control. The 34 people aboard included six crew members and a guide aboard, according to officials.
The boat was escorted back to Longyearbyen by the Svalbard. The governor is conducting a routine investigation into the incident to determine the cause and possible negligence.
Stig Henningsen, general manager of the guiding company, said he did not immediately know how long the Langøysund, will be out of service. He said the company will continue offering voyages to Barentsburg and Pyramiden on alternating days using the M/S Billefjord (instead of using two ships traveling to different settlements daily), and “we will try to move passengers booked on one vessel to the other.”