More than 500 evacuated after ferry catches fire off Puerto Rico (with VIDEO)


The following is the text of a news release from the U.S. Coast Guard:

(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico) — Salvage and firefighting teams boarded the 561-foot passenger ferry vessel Caribbean Fantasy on Friday morning and located two missing pets deceased near the vessel's disembarkation area.

The owners of the pets were notified in person at Coast Guard Sector San Juan. The Unified Command is coordinating a plan to recover the deceased pets and bring them ashore.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the owners of the pets for their loss," said Capt. Robert Warren, the incident commander of the response. "Many of us are also pet owners who love our animals and consider them part of our family."

The salvage and firefighting teams on board are also assessing damage and the stability of the vessel. The fire is reported to still be active and mostly contained in the vessel's engine room.

Dive teams are being coordinated to inspect the hull of the vessel for damage.

Ardent Global is working to finalize a vessel salvage and towing plan.

Salvage and firefighting teams that boarded the vessel Thursday around 1700 found no sign of the pets. The teams were able to close some of the fire dampeners for the engine room to assist in the containment of the fire.

The Coast Guard has established a 1,000-yard safety zone around the vessel. There are no reports of sheening or pollution around the vessel at this time. The vessel is being closely monitored and booming has been deployed at the intakes for the Palo Seco Power Plant as a precautionary measure against potential discharge from the vessel. There has also been 14,000 feet of booming pre-staged near Punta Salinas.

The Caribbean Fantasy Response Unified Command consists of the Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and Baja Ferries (owner of the Caribbean Fantasy).

Also assisting the response efforts are the America Cruise Ferries, Ardent Global, the Department of Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the National Response Corp., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Witt O'Brien's, the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency and the Puerto Rico Fire Department.


(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico) — The Coast Guard responded Wednesday to a fire aboard the 561-foot passenger ferry vessel Caribbean Fantasy approximately half a mile off of Punta Salinas.

At approximately 0742 on Wednesday, Coast Guard Sector San Juan received a report of a fire aboard a Panamanian-flagged passenger/cargo ship carrying 511 passengers, including crew, en route from the Dominican Republic. Initial reports indicated a manifest of 512, however the vessel returned to port in the Dominican Republic to disembark one passenger earlier in its voyage.

The fire, which began in the engine room, spread to other compartments on board, which led to the entire ship's evacuation. Passengers and crewmembers were evacuated from the ship and taken to Pier 6 in San Juan port where emergency service personnel received them for medical evaluations.

At 1021 on Wednesday, Caribbean Fantasy ran aground approximately half a nautical mile offshore of Punta Salinas.

The Coast Guard has established a 1,000-yard safety zone around the vessel. There are no reports of sheening or pollution around the vessel at this time.  

Multiple Coast Guard surface and air assets were committed to the response effort and worked with local Puerto Rican marine police, fire, pilot and commercial tugboats from the port, as well as the Puerto Rico Joint Forces of Action (FURA), Customs and Border Protection marine units and good Samaritans to effect the rescue.

A Unified Command comprised of federal, state and industry agencies and organizations has been established at Coast Guard Sector San Juan to manage the incident and salvage efforts of the Caribbean Fantasy.

To view an ABC News video of the evacuation, click here.

Editor's note: America Cruise Ferries of San Juan operates Caribbean Fantasy. The company website says the ship built in 1989 can carry up to 1,050 passengers. 

By Professional Mariner Staff