The Scandinavian Star was a large ferry for international trade, which had been purchased by a newly set up company in Denmark for the service between Oslo and Frederikshavn in Denmark. The vessel had until shortly before operated in the gambling-cruise trade out of Florida, and was put through a hasty renovation before being put into service in Scandinavia, and there was insufficient time to make a cohesive unit out of the crew. Further, a significant portion of the crew did not speak neither English nor any Scandinavian language, and was only able to communicate in Partuguese, a language hardly spoken at all in Scandinavia. The vessel had also not completed its renovation - numerous cabins were not finished, public areas were not fitted out, electrical wiring was left exposed, etc.
In the night between 6. and 7. April, while the vessel was in the Skagerrak-straits, headed for Denmark, two or three fires erupted on the vessel, in the time between ca. 1.30-2.30am. The first (two) was put out - the last fire was not put out. The crew did not alert passengers after the first fire(s).
The last fire, left undetected initially, soon spread, and gained strength and momentum. As the firealarms went off on the bridge, the captain only closed off firedoors near where the smoke was detected, leaving other firedoors and paths open. This resulted among other things in the fire gaining access to the stairwells and the cardeck, as well as certain air-paths with strengthened draught forming, causing extra air to be sucked into the flames, fueling the fire.
A significant side-effect of the fire was the smoke. The panelling in corridors and public spaces aboard the ship, was for a large part in composite material which was flammable and emitted large quantities of poisonous smoke when burning, a smoke that is also so dense as to make it completely impossible to see anything whiel trying to make one's way through it. Most of the dead aboard «Scandinavian Star» were killed by smoke-poisoning.
Other vessels were soon at the scene, as the vessel called for help, but some level of confusion in the rescue-work, combined with significant confusion onboard «Scandinavian Star», prevented evacuation and rescue from being as efficient as it could have been. At the time the captain abandoned ship, he reported over radio that there were no more people onboard - this was incorrect, as there was a significant number of persons left onboard. At the end of the day, 158 people had found their deaths on «Scandinavian Star», and one more died later from injuries sustained. Also, one person dead onboard had been expecting.
At the time this happened, Norway was still a nation of one national TV-network, and two national radio-channels, all owned by the government, but operated independently, similar to BBC. The schedules were cleared completely, of course, as events unfolded, and the scope of the disaster became apparent. The radio alternated between newsreports, somber classical music, and somber statements from the principal members of government - TV was similar, save the classical music.
However, I remember more than anything that day, no more than a week later, when TV reported the names of all the dead - the two senior newsreporters just reading name after name after name, with each name mentioning that person's place of residence and age. It really made an impact, particularly the many instances were several persons in a row had the same surname and place of residence, mainly being mother, father, and child(ren). The media might recite numbers of dead all they want, but it was that reading of names that made them into people, instead of a statistic.
I have below translated a number of items - 3 are various items from the website www.scandinavianstar.no, while the other twelve are newsreports from the online edition of Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet. Note that the Dagbladet-articles carry something of an editorial slant - there are many that believe that the investigation into the fire was not thorough enough, and that the persons found guilty were just fallguys for the real culprits - Dagbladet seems to be clearly in favour of this position, and the articles will reflect that.
- The fire presumably started shortly after 02.00, and the place of ignition is assumed to be in the corridor-area close to the entrance to stairwell 2 SB on the starboard side of deck 3. It is probably that the fire was lit with a match or a lighter. Between 2 and 8 minutes after ignition, the fire developed sufficient heat to ignite the corridor-walls.
- Only a minute after the fire has spread to the walls, the entire corridor is enveloped in flames. The fire is now spreading to the nearby stairwell. Smoke is sucked up through the stairwell and is drifting into the higher-positioned deck 4. 3-5 minutes after the initiation of teh fire smoke is observed on decks 5 and 6, and this is reported to the bridge.
When the fire reaches deck 5, it is drawn through a transverse corridor and down again to deck 3 - and here the flames move just about explosively. The fire has now been going on for 10-14 minutes, and it is spreading to other parts of the ship.
- The fire is spreading to the cabin-sections on deck 5, and the smoke is so saturated with carbon-monoxide that persons exposed to this smoke loose consciousness within 30 seconds and withinn 3 minutes accumulate fatal dose. At the same time, the smoke contains large quantities of poisonous cyanide which is released by the burning materials, creating life-threatening conditions for the passengers.
The fire continues up in the ship and into the restaurant-section on deck 6. The cabins are smokefree as long as the doors are kept closed and the ventilation-system is kept functional, but when the ventilation is stopped, possibly as late as 02:30, smoke seeps into the cabins, and the concentration of carbon-monoxide and cyanide reaches critical level around 15 minutes later.
- The fire continues, but is now spread more slowly due to lack of air. Moreover the fire is now blocked by both bulkheads and closed doors. The fire was not put out until Sunday 16 april at 16:00.
Note that the date given in d may be incorrect - elsewhere it is indicated that the fire was put out on the day after the fire, and moreover the given date combined with the week-day are inconsistent with the week-day and date of the actual disaster.
The spreading of the fire (positions indicated by circled numbers)
- The fire is ignited here, some time after 0200. Two to eight minutes later an effect of 200 kW is developed. This is determined to be the starting-time of the disastrous fire.
- The fire quickly spreads to the stairwell, and further up.
- Smoke reaches deck 3 ca. one minute after the fire starts, and is drawen into the corridors ahead of and astern of the stairwell. The firedoow ahead of the stairwell remains open.
- Smoke reaches deck 5 after ca. two-three minutes, and begins seeping into the adjoining corridors.
- The fire quickly spreads from starboard to port side through this transverse passageway.
- On the port side the fire continues to move through the stairwell.
- Smoke also enters the corridors on the port side on deck 4, but in less amounts than on deck 5. All passengers here are evacuated.
- The fire spreads down to deck 3, where the firedoor to the cardeck is open.
- The fire also spreads into the restaurant-section on deck 6, through an open firedoor at the top of the stairwell.
- Mayday from «Scandinavian Star» - to Tjøme radio. 500 to 600 persons onboard. «We are boarding lifeboats.»
- «Scandinavian Star» alerts «Stena Saga» and requests that "Stena Saga» be stand by.
- Mayday relay from Tjøme radio: «Scandinavian Star» on fire. The ship is being abandoned. Need immediate assistance (in English and Norwegian). A number of ships report immediately. Norwegian Main Rescue Central (HRS) alerted.
- Contact between HRS and MRCC Göteborg and RCC Karup. Request - offer for assistance. Agreement between HRS and MRCC Göteborg that HRS coordinates.
- «Stena Saga» appointed CSS.
- «Stena Saga» at «Scandinavian Star»
- Captain of «Scandinavian Star» informs «Stena Saga» about the evacuation.
- First rescue-helicopter on the scene.
- First smokediver put down on «Scandinavian Star»
- «Stena Saga» reports - as alst ship - the number of survivors and dead aboard.
- Towing of «Scandinavian Star» to Lysekil begins.
- MRCC Göteborg takes over as coordinating rescue-central.
- «Nord-Jylland» takes over as OSC.
- «Scandinavian Star» moored in harbour in Lysekil.
Wants to sue the policeThe investigation conducted by Oslo Police was a disaster. That is the opinion of the bereaved after «Scandinavian Star».
SHIP OF DEATH: 159 people died aboard SCANDINAVIAN STAR. The cause of the fire is not yet clear.
Wednesday 7. May 2003 18:55,
The Danish bereaved after the «Scandinavian Star»-accident announce that they intend to go to a civil lawsuit against Oslo Police and the then Police Commissioner of Oslo, Willy Haugli.
The bereaved accuse the police of intentionally neglecting to pursue important clues in the investigation of the fire, reports TVNorge.
Spokesman for the bereaved, Mike Axdal, characterises the handling of the investigation by Oslo Police as disastrous, and levels harsh criticism at the then Police Commissioner Willy Haugli.
A 37 years old Danish lorry-owner, who himself was killed in the fire, was pointed out as arsonist.
The police has been governed by executives who have wanted the case to reach this conclusion, claims Axdal to TVNorge.
Axdal lost both his brother and father in the fire.
On Thursday the Danish prosecutor will present a recommendation to the Director of Public Prosecutions, which may open for a new investigation of the case.
159 people were killed in the fire onboard «Scandinavian Star» April 7 1990. The demand for a new investigation has been raised among others by the bereaved after suspicion was raised last year (2002) about insurance-fraud prior to the fire.
Willy Haugli has according to the TV-network no deire to comment on the issue.
Want to solve fire-mystery
In few days the Danish Director of Public Prosecutions will decide whether the «Scandinavian Star» case shall be re-opened. Yesterday the support-group for the bereaved after «Scandinavian Star» received 100,000 Norwegian kroner in governmental funding from Minister of Justice Odd Einar Dørum.
MARIUS SANDVIK and HILDE SCHJERVE
Tuesday 20. May 2003 7:02,
The demand for a new investigation was raised among others by the bereaved after it became clear that there was reason to suspect insurance-fraud prior to the fire. One week before «Scandinavian Star» burnt, the vessel was bought by the shipping-company Sea Escape for 10.3 million dollars, and insured for 24 million dollars. Sea Escape may have cashed in 100 millions kroner in insurance-settlements following the fire.
- That we have granted free court-aid and funding to the support-group demonstrates that we from the Norwegian side feel a need to get moving in this case. We want answers for the many unanswered cases, said Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice Jørn Holme to Dagbladet.
The decision of the Danish Director of Public Prosecutions is expected within the next few days. If he moves to reopen the investigation, this will affect also Norwegian authorities of justice.
- If the Danes reopen the case, it will affect how this is followed up in Norway. For that reason, we await the decision from the Danish public prosecution, says Jørn Holme.
The support-group for bereaved and survivors after the disaster, has for years undertaken private investigation to find the truth about the fatal fire in 1990, which cost 158 people their lives.
This last year the Norwegian Ministry of Justice has clearly signalled its attitude to the persistent struggle fo the group. Danish Mike Axdal has received free court-aid from Norwegian authorities, in his work to throw light on the ownership of «Scandinavian Star». And yesterday the supportgroup received the letter granting 100,000 Norwegian kroner in support from the Ministry of Justice.
Barrister Harald Stabell represents the support-group, and is happy that extra weight is now being put behind the attempts to reopen the investigation.
- Both the Norwegian and the Danish investigators were too eager to draw conclusions, and went too far in branding the dead lorry-driver as an arsonist. In retrospect it seems a somewhat too easy solution, and the bereaved deserve that every stone is turned in this case, says Stabell. He feel that a new investigation in any case will give more answers than we have today in one of the greatest shipping-distasters in post-war Scandinavia.
- It isn't certain that we can solve the case, but at least do one last credible attempt. Bereaved have had doors slammed in their faves in this case, but I think many will settle with this if the case is reopend, says Stabell.
Secret documents about «Scandinavian Star»
SECRET: The stamp on the document from the Bahamas registry of shipping shows that the sale of «Scandinavian Star» took place August 30. 1990 - five months after the fire. Seller is SeaEscape Cruise Ltd. of Miami, selling to Danish K/S «Scandinavian Star».
Photo: Eivind Pedersen and Odd R. Andersen
Hitherto secret deocuments shed new light on the people behind the scenes who operated the disastership «Scandinavian Star» when 159 people died in Skagerrak 7. April 1990.
Thursday 4. September 2003 8:24,
COPENHAGEN/KRISTIANSAND (Dagbladet): This information can have great significance if the Danish Director of Public Prosecutions decides to reopen the investigation. The information that has appeared concerning the possibility that the fire was part of insurance-fraud, are so firm that the Danish authorities for a year and a half have considered re-opening the investigations.
Fake sale of the ship?
The fire took place 7. April 1990. Norwegian and Danish authorities have based their investigation on the vessel having been sold to the Danish K/S Scandinavian Star two days before the disaster. The new document shows that the sale may have been fake. According to the document the owner of the ship on the day of the disaster was SeaEscape Cruises Ltd., Miami, Florida. The Bahaman registry of shipping shows that the ship only five months after the fire was registered as sold to K/S Scandinavian Star.
This can mean that new persons may be placed under investigation for having put the ship into service.
The Committee of Justice in Folketinget, the Danish parliament, demands that the minister of justice answers eleven questions about the fire.
Demands 70 millionsMike Axdal (40) is launching a compensation-lawsuit against Insurance-association Skuld, at the expense of the Norwegian government. The giant-claim is 10 million dollars - roughly 70 million Norwegian kroner.
LONG STRUGGLE: Mike Axdal (40) has collected an enormous amount of documentation following nearly 14 years of private investigation of the sequence of events and of the ownership behind the scandal-ferry «Scandinavian Star». He himself lost his father and brother in the inferno of fire April 7. 1990. - I look forward to placing responsibility where it belongs, he says.
Photo: EIVIND PEDERSEN
DISASTER: 159 people died when the Denmark-ferry «Scandinavian Star» caught fire in Skagerrak the night before 7. April 1990. The ship was filled above capacity, and many passengers were on their way to Easter-holiday in Denmark.
Saturday 15. November 2003 10:53,
KORSØR(Dagbladet): Axdal's father and brother were among the 159 killed in the fire the night before Saturday 7. April 1990. Following nearly 14 years private investigation Axdal feels he has proof that the ship was under US American ownership and operation when it burnt.
With American owners, possibilities exist for giant-compensation.
Axdal has received help also from criminal groups in getting hold of revealing documents.
Also persons in the Danish civil service have gained such sympathy for his case that they have helped him behind the back of their employer.
Including interest, Axdal's claim can reach several hundred millions kroner.
- The compensation-sums are to be measured according to US standard. A verdict in my favour will have effect for all other survivors and bereaved. The compensation-settlement between Skuld and the bereaved may turn out to be invalid, because I can now document that Skuld knew that the insurance-policy concered the US company SeaEscape Cruises Ltd. and that the policy did not involve and insurance-takers in Norway or denmark, Axdal says.
- During my investigation I have received a number of death-threats. I have also received several communications from solicitors in the groups around those I fight against. But I am not an easily scared person, says Axdal.
- Hid information
Yesterday the subpoena along with enarly 600 pages of documentation was handed over to the City of Oslo Stipendiary Magistrate's Court.
If other bereaved and surviving passengers also go to court, to total claims against Skuld may reach several billions kroner.
- Skuld has with-held information in a claims-matter. Therefore all survivors and bereaved have their hands free in the choice of jurisidiction they wish their claim to be made in, believes Axdal.
The lawsuit against Skuld is so far the summit of Mike Axdal's untiring struggle to place responsibility for the disastrous fire where he feels it belongs.
In the autumn of last year, Axdal handed over a report that served as a true eyeopener for the Danish Director of Public Prosecutions. Axdal's unique documentation of hitherto unknown matters regarding the trading of «Scandinavian Star» kindled new interest to re-investigate the case. So far no decision has been made about re-opening the investigation.
It is a tired, but very eager to fight, father of two from the old ferry-harbour Korsør at Sjælland who now takes on the insurance-giant Skuld. But Mike Axdal does not feel like David when he took on Goliath.
- I am so well prepared that I actually look forward to fighting in court for placing responsibility. I know that many have been worried that I one day would have enough evidence to carry through with a judicial process, says Axdal.
Lost his family
He himself lost his father Henning and big brother Tonni in the fire. He has never accepted the official explanations surrounding the fire.
- The trial in Oslo sometime in the enw year will be my gift to society for the help I did not receive, says Axdal ironically.
- I have for almost 14 years been surrounded by lies, rejections and claims of legal statue-barring.
Little did the Dane, who operated a small painter's company, know that his life would soon be completely altered, when he boarded the worn-out gambling-vessel «Scandinavian Star» in Cuxhaven on 25. March 1990.
- I was helped by my father and my brother. They were there for me. It wasn't fair that it would be them that died in the blaze.
Mike Axdal does not want to appear as a bitter man. But his eyes reveal that they have seen the most terrible scenes aboard the burning ship. Tears flood his steel-blue eyes as he describes the inferno.
He is nevertheless thankful that he was allowed to live - as the only person on 5 Deck, later referred to as the Corridor of Death.
- I saved my life because I had instructor's training from Copenhagen Fireschool. I tried to lead dad and my brother out of the corridor, but lost them on the way. Myself I had to crawl over dead and dying passengers until I in a swoon emerged into fresh air on the outside deck.
He early gained suspicion that the truth surrounding the vessel and the fire wasn't told neither in the inquiry nor by the authorities that examined the fire.
- I couldn't put myself to ease with the conclusion by Oslo Police that a a 37 eyar old Dane formerly convicted of arsony was the one who put the ferry on fire, says Axdal.
- It was too easy to blame one person who was unable to defend himself. My own investigation demonstrates that the theories do not stack up, claims Axdal.
Wants to create a relief-foundation
He rejects that economic motives have driven him through these years. He wants to give those he thinks are guilty that punishment they deserve. He points out that part of a potential compensation will be put aside in a foundation to provide relief for victims of plane-, train- and shipping-accidents in Denamrk, Nroway, and Sweden.
- The scapegoat must be clearedThe Dane (37) was the perfect scapegoat when Oslo Police couldn't find anyone else who'd put fire «Scandinavian Star» on. Now people work to clear the man, who was convicted of arsony in a separate case.
POINTED OUT AS MASS-MURDERER: This old passport-photo shows the Danish 37 year old whom the Oslo Police identified as an arsonist and mass-murderer after the fire onboard «Scandinavian Star».
GRAVE OF THE UNKNOWN: Here at the gravesite of the unknown at the graveyard in the Danish city Grenå, the 37 year old lies buried. His widow visists his resting-place often to lay down flowers, remembering him.
Photo: Eivind Pedersen
«SCANDINAVIAN STAR»: 7. April 1990 fire broke out onboard «Scandinavian Star», which was in Skagerrak. 159 of 482 passengers died.
Sunday 16. November 2003 11:12,
GRENÅ (Dagbladet): The Dane was found dead in his cabin after the disastrous fire. His widow looks forward to the day his name can be cleared, and no longer be tied to the «Scandinavian Star»-fire.
- Only then can he rest in his grave. I wish that he could rest secure from incessant accusations of having been the one to blame for 158 others dying in the ferry-fire, says the widow.
- When the fire-case is solved, I will have peace, and can move on with my life, she says.
Conclusion put in doubt
Harald Stabell, lawyer for the support-association for the bereaved and survivors of «Scandinavian Star», feels the 37 year old has been unjustly branded as responsible for the fire, and the Danish Director of Public Prosections places a lot of prestige and work in evaluating whether there is a basis for resuming the investigation. This matter would have been a non-issue for the Danes if the Oslo Police's conclusions had been so certain as former Police Commissioner Willy Haugli claims.
In a confidential police-note Dagbladet has gained access to, the Oslo Police in 1991 concluded their investigation as follows:«The investigation shows that there is a large degree of probability that NN deliberately set off two fires onboard 'Scandinavian Star' the night befor Saturday 07.04.90 between 01.52 and 02.20.»
The same note reveals that suspicion against the man was so weak that it was only two months after the fire that one chose to focus on this part of the investigation, and further that the investigation took place so late that some witnesses had problems remembering times accurately.
- My ex-husband (the couple was separated, ed. remark) was made out to be scapegoat. It fit the Norwegian police-authorities perfectly that there had been a man aboard who had a prior conviction for arsony. Besides, he was dead and could not defend himself, the woman says bitterly.
- It is just as wrong as if saying that someone who has previously stolen, is automatically the guilty if he happens to be near a place where a new theft takes place, she says.
- I have never been presented with a single piece of firm evidence that he is guilty. Instead I was overrun by Norwegian investigators who almost made me believe that he had put the ferry on fire, she says.
The woman has lived with rumours and a nagging uncertainty for 13 years, which has given her significant mental problems. She relates uncomfortable episodes were newspaper-articles and notes with accusations have been slipped in through the crack under the door in her home. She feels that the neighbours are viewing her with suspicion because the ex-husband was branded as the likely arsonist.
- Sorry for the families
She longs for the day the truth may be known.
- I have lived with this matter like all the other bereaved - those who have lost one or more of their near and dear in the fire. It is a maddening though if the person or persons guilty are still alive. I know that there still are so many of those that were aboard, that the police never gained an overview of. The guilty must in that case have had a terrible time - with regards to all the suffering they inflicted on so many innocent people. I feel genuinely sorry for their families if the case is solved. Then they will need comfort, like I myself have needed.
- If the fire is solved, I think that I myself can lift my head and live a life with more peace and quiet, says the woman.
Was the fire fraud and murder?
Insurance-frad and murder. Those are the topics which the Danish Director of Public Prosecutions is evaluating at the moment. All other crimes on the «Scandinavian Star» have passed the date of being statue-barred.
Sunday 16. November 2003 11:24,
- In a month and a half time a decision will be made on whether the «Scandinavian Star»-fire will be investigated anew, says public prosecutor Hanne Schmidt to Dagbladet.
Schmidt keeps Director of Public Prosecutions Henning Fode continually updated of evaluations in the serious matter. This autumn Schmidt and Fode have had meetings with representatives for the Norwegian and Danish survivors and bereaved.
Very little information has been leaked to the public concerning the evaluations of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
But upon being questioned by Dagbladet. Schmidt confirms that insurance-fraud and possible murder are among the theories specifically under consideration.
- These are not considerations of something that is merely a tax- and excise-matter?
- Is there already any form of investigation underway beyond the examinations done by the tax-authorities?
- We are investigating the matter, but I can give no information regarding what is taking place in our investigation.
In parallell with this, Danish customs- and tax-authorities have since the end of July been fully engaged investigating the companies involved in the trading of «Scandinavian Star».
The tax-hunters have already concluded that several of the companies referred to in papers, never existed.
Lawyer of the bereaved: - Wrongly branded.
The support-association for the bereaved and survivors of «Scandinavian Star» recommends that the widow and family of the 37 year old identified as the arsonist, claim compensation from Oslo Police.
Sunday 16. November 2003 11:23,
The lawyer of the association, Harald Stabell, says to Dagbladet that the 37 year old for almost 12 years has been wrongly branded as mass-murderer.
Stabell feels it was hairraising that then Police Commissioner Willy Haugli in February 1991 concluded that the Dane with a prior conviction for arson in all likelihood had put fire to «Scandinavian Star».
- The circumstantial evidence and informations of the 37 year old that the police possessed would obviously not have been sufficient for a court conviction, claims Stabell, who has reviewed the police's material that formed basis for directing suspicion at the Dane.
Stabell says that it, on basis of the man's prior conviction for arson, was quite natural to suspect him of the ferry-fire.
- I can go so far as to say that there were reasonable grounds for suspicion of the 37 year old. But the charges against him were obviously not strong enough for conviction in a court. I doubt they could even have reached the point of formally filing charges with the court, says Stabell.
He reminds us that the 37 year old in the years following the disaster has been branded as guilty without having the opportunity to explain or defend himself.
When Stabell now recommends the bereaved of the 37 year old to seek compensation from Oslo Police, it isn't because he feels the police made any direct errors.
- They should demand compensation because the actual situation turned out so wrong, all the statements were so wrong.
- We were sabotagedFirechief Ingvar Brynfors (66) is convinced that the firefighting-effort onboard «Scandinavian Star» was sabotaged, and believes the plan was to sink the vessel to cover a possible insurance-fraud.
FOUGHT THE FIRE: This image of effort-manager Ingvar Brynfors (in the middle), firechief of Gothenburg, is taken aboard «Scandinavian Star» in one of the periods the water was cut off. The explanation was that the crew allegedly wanted to correct the imminent list using the baleing-pumps. Brynfors is convinced the crew was bluffing and that the firefighting-effort was sabotaged.
Tuesday 18. November 2003 5:43,
GÖTEBORG (Dagbladet): New information from the now retired firechief and numerous other sources puts the completed investigations in a particularly strange light.
The firefighters that came aboard feel convinced that they were bluffed by remaining crewmembers on the vessel.
For three-four halfhour periods, they cut of the firefighting-water, resulting in the fire flaring up and spreading further on the vessel.
The explanation given was that the pumping-system was needed to pump water out of the ship to correct for an increasing list.
The list reached 10 degrees on a couple of occasions. The rescue-management was informed that the «Scandinavian Star» might capsize if the list reached 10-12 degrees.
Used the ballast-tanks
Dagbladet can reveal that Captain Hugo Larsen had ordered that the list be corrected using the ballasttanks. Thus the alleged pumping of water from the hull could never have taken place.
Additionally it is clear that none of the firefighting-water flooded down into the engine-spaces, which the crew claimed they repeatedly had to pump clear of water.
- No, the firefighting-water could not reach the engine-room. The pumps in the engine-room also could not pump water accumulating further up in the ship. We have learned this in retrospec. No, the truth is probably that they didn't pump out a single quart of water, says firechief Brynfors to Dagbladet.
Retired Swedish police chief superintendent Agne Knutsson, who served in Uddevalla Police, accepts criticism for insufficient investigation. Being in charge of the technical examinations on «Scandinavian Star», it was Knutsson who had the responsibility for investigating why and how the ship was on fire.
- Looking back we made mistake after mistake. But we didn't know any better. Besides we were working under an enormous pressure of time, Knutsson explains today.
He firmly believes that there are still possibilities to investigate the case and reach other conclusions than one did 13 years ago. He is convinced that the ferry-fire was a staged distraction.
- I believe the meaning with the first fire was to set off the firealarm, giving the passengers a chance to be evacuated. But something went wrong, and thus the set off fire ended in such a disaster, says Knutsson.
Dagbladet has had access to documents that show that apparently inexplicable and suspicious aspects were never properly investigated.
Water in the engine-room and the list threatened to capsize the vessel.
The hydraulics-fire that began 13 hours into the fire because someone started the pumps to the upper cardeck.
The ventilation-installation which was opened to full draught, causing fire to race like fireballs through open or blocked firedoors.
The wedeblocks the firemen had put in some doors were kicked away, causing the doors to close and squeeze the hoses shut.
The Norwegians evacuated
By the late morning on Saturday 7. april 1990 a strong and apparently inexplicable list became the greatest worry for the firefighters.
Rescuemanagement feared that «Scandinavian Star» would capsize. Therefore all the Norwegian firefighters were evacuated. Only 15 Swedish firefighters led by Brynfors remained.
We were led by our noses when we wore ourselves out under nearly inhuman conditions, says the now retired Gothenburg firechief.
Brynfors refers to the crewmembers that sabotaged the firefighting-effort as coldblooded people.
- You have reached the bottom of morality when you can do something like that.
Brynfors claims with professional dredibility that the fire on «Scandinavian Star» cannot have been acts conducted by the drunk 37 year old whom the Oslo Police identified as the likely arson.
- There are no possibilities of arranging a fire like this without preparations. With knowledge and insight of the large ventilation-fans on the cardeck, such a draught through the vessel was created that the fire spread with incredible speed.
It was completely mad, says Brynfors.
He tells of the dramatic situation when the socalled hydraulic-fire. Several hundred litres hydraulic-oil caught fire as it flowed out through an inexplicable leak.
Emerged as torches
- The heat was so strong that the protective eyeglass of the smokedivers melted. Those are made to stand 600 degrees centigrade (1112 degrees Fahrenheit). After a few seconds in the heat they emerged like torches. We ahd to put out the flames from the oil burning on their suits, relates Brynfors.
- I hope someone will gives us the answers of what really happened when we with our lives at stake fought the flames. We fought so hard because we wanted that so many as possible of the bereaved would be spared seeing their loved ones creamted by the flames, says Brynfors, and concludes:
- Many pieces of the puzzle have already fallen in place. At least as far as I am concerned.
The unknown heroIn one corridor aboard Scandinavian star, everyone survived. They were saved by Kristen Blindheim.
Saturday 22. November 2003 9:40,
- They can thank Blindheim for being alive, says chief superintendent Agne Knutsson at Uddevalla Police.
With an unbelievable effort of force, the young lad from Sykkylven managed to get the firedoor in the corridor outside his cabin loose from the strong electro-magnets. He managed to close the door and lock the smoke and flames out. Shortly after the fire struck as a fireball right across the ship in the deck above, before the flames were led down the stairwell.
In this interview Blindheim tells for the first time about the events on the ships.
Put the first fire out
If the firedoors had remained open, the passengers in this corridor wouldn't ahve had the lisghtest chance of survival. Instead the blaze was drawn further down in the vessel, where the flames enveloped the van nearest the cardeck-door. Everyone in Blindheim's corridor was evacuated, gained their way to safety through the smoke-filled corridors and out on the foredeck.
For the sportsteam-leader from the Møre-district Blindheim, the dramatic events began with a fire beginning earlier in the night.
Along with Arvid Rusten he chaperone for four youngster who were going to a ping-pong tournament in Denmark. Blindheim explains that he was worried and couldn't sleep, because he felt unsafe about the whole ferry.
After an hour or so he heard a crackling noise out in the corridor. There he saw flames reaching to the ceiling, right next to cabin 416.
Along with his travelling companion he put out the starting fire. Blindheim contracted 2nd-degree burns under the soles of his feet when he, wearing only his underpants, threw himself over and put out the very first fire on «Scandinavian Star».
- We demanded that the whole vessel be checked, because we felt there was an arsonist onboard, he says.
- The crew didn't take us seriously. They told us to go to bed again, because they were in control of the situation. The crew seemed very tired, just about dopey. I think they had long workdays in the process of preparing the ferry for service, he says.
Blindheim remained awake and alert in his berth. After a short while heard a shout of «FIRE!» over the P/A-system. blindheim rushed into the corridor and discovered dense smoke in the first stairwell on the port side aft of his cabin.
The 53 year old inhaled so much poisonous smoke that he himself feels he should have been dead. For nearly 10 years after the fire, he was very bothered about coughing - most of the time he was coughing up blood.
- After I was saved, I coughed up so much soot that the sink in the hotelroom was completely black, he says.
In the process of lowering a lifeboat, he injured several joints on his toes.
A destroyed life
After the fire, Blindheim and Rusten received 20 000 kroner in compensation for not getting to Denmark.
- I expected to be called for a medical examination. But it didn't happen. The insurance-company also refused to pay a specialist-examination, which I requested, at the National Hospital, he says.
- The first time I couldn't work. I could hardly do a thing before being exhausted.
He didn't dare take 100 percent disability-pension, because he feared he would loose subsidies for his farm-operation.
Many believe he was suffering from a post-traumatic stress-reaction after the intense stress during the fire.
- I have received some help from the social services to pay rootcanals and glasses. The rest of the treatment I have had to pay out of my own pocket, says Blindheim.
Blindheim does not try to hide that he has to in some cases large financial problems after the disaster. Three months ago the power-company came to cut the powerlines to the barn.
- I haven't been able to afford to go to Oslo for the gatherings held by the support-association, he says.
- I have learnt not to have great expectations, says Blindheim.
Erects memorial for victims of «Scandinavian Star»-disaster
The 159 people killed in the fire on the ferry «Scandinavian Star» in 1990 will be honoured with a memorial at Akershusstranda in Oslo.
Wednesday 26. November 2003 20:57,
It is the Ministry of Business and Trade, represented by Minister Ansgar Gabrielsen, which grants 2.6 million kroner to have a memorial erected, reports NRK.
482 passengers were onboard «Scandinavian Star» 7. April 1990 when a fire erupted on the passenger-ferry while it was in Skagerrak. 159 were killed in the accident.
Uncovered police-mistakeCountry Police Sergeant and Sheriff Norvald Visnes of Fana felt the insurance-fraud theory regarding «Scandinavian Star» had not been investigated. Therefore he interviewed the fellow local Terje Bergsvåg (45). This annoyed Oslo Police.
COMMITTED: Country Police Sergeant and Sheriff Norvald Visnes (60) didn't hesitate to offer help when he received an inquiry from Terje Bergsvåg (45).
Photo: Eivind Pedersen
Thursday 27. November 2003 6:14,
BERGEN (Dagbladet): The 60 year old Country Police Sergeant and Sheriff committed himself to the case because he did not exclude the possibility that the disatrous fire had been set off by someone else than the Dane (37) which Oslo Police identified as the probable culprit.
- I know hwo to investigate, and know that insurance-fraud as a possible motive in cases involving fire, always MUST be investigated, he says.
He has personal experience in exposing insurance-frauds.
- A classic sign of such crooks is that they always acquire insurance-policies that far exceed the actual value. After damage, the sum is demanded.
Dagbladet knows that the Fana-sheriff's commitment caused great annoyance in Oslo Police. It is said to have taken nearly a year before the Norwegian Director of Public Prosecutions was informed that the Fana-sheriff through the interviews of Bergvåg was gathering information about the fire.
Then the sheriff received a letter inquiring whether he ahd opened an investigation.
He answered that he only had received information which he felt dutybound to receive according to the Prosecution Instruction.
Meeting at Gardermoen
The sheriff presented the amtter to both the Police Commissioner of Bergen and the public prosecutor of Hordaland before it was decided to interview Bergsvåg.
Prior to this both the sheriff and Bergsvåg had, on 28. April 2000, had a meeting at Gardermoen with the then chief of the Criminal Investigation Central (Kripos), Knut Holen. Also other police service-men were consulted.
- After the talks I cocnluded that it had been negligence of duty not to get Bergsvåg's information officially on paper, and get it presented to the competent prosecuting authority, which then could evaluate the matter anew, Visnes tells.
Spoke to crew
Together with former SV deputy mayor of Askim, Hasse Magnusson, Bergsvåg had for a long time worked on gathering information concerning «Scandinavian Star». Also Danish Mike Axdal had contributed with significant documentation. All have lost relatives or friends in the fire.
Terje Bergsvåg says he has received valuable information after having talked to several crewmembers.
Through talks with persons in investigation-management in Oslo Police, Bergsvåg realised that it was hopeless to hope for any acceptance here.
- Oslo Police completely skipped investigating potential insurance-related motives, despite the fact that the insurance-sum for «Scandinavian Star» was quadrupled just a week before it burnt, says Bergsvåg.
Would not listen
- Oslo Police explained the lack of will to check this theory in that they believed no-one would be cynical enough to put a ferry on fire just to make money.
The leader of investigations told me:
«We are not so stupid in Oslo Police that we believe that», tells Bergsvåg.
- It is part of this that the same investigator later has told me that it would be «suspicious up above the ears» if the police had known that the insurance-policy had been taken out by a different company than the one which claimed it own «Scandinavian Star», he says.
- I don't experience Bergsvåg as conspiratorial. He wishes to shed light on the facts, and does not present onesided new information. He strenghtens his information reasoning, facts, and background. That isn't quite common in this type of cases, says Visnes.
He himself went to sea in his young years, and worked several years as a deck-crew member.
- I went with Bergsvåg's point that the first intentional fire on «Scandinavian Star» was not taken seriously. A normal reaction on a vessel which suffers fire in the middle of the night, is to sound all alarms, and get everyone on deck. Then human life might not have been lost, even if one just after this put fire to the entire vessel, says Visnes.
He says the simplest would have been to refer Bergsvåg to Oslo Police. But he realised that Bergsvåg no longer had any trust in Oslo Police.
- Myself, I haven't had any access to police-documents on the matter, and have not particular views on whether or not the identified Dane was the culprit. But it is the duty of the police to examine more closely if information emerges which may point in a different direction - or at matters we haven't examined, says Visnes.
The police's information
The interviews of Bergsvåg took place in the period of May 200 to March 2001. Bergsvåg says he is very happy that Visnes took him seriously.
- It was frightening that much of what I brought to the sheriff was information I had found in the casefules with Oslo Police. Information that had been in the case all along, says Bergsvåg.
Dagbaldet has had access to records of the interviews of Bergsvåg. He gives very detailled information about potential suspects with motives or as helpers, based on information surrounding the purchase and insurance of the vessel and the manning attached to «Scandinavian Star».
The documents ended up with that officer responsible for prosecution at Oslo Police who personally had been responsible for the investigation. The conclusion was that Bergsvåg had not brought anything new to the case. The Director of Public Prosuctions closed the case based on it being inexpedient to reopen the investigation.
- The investigation must be reviewedFormer police chief superintendent Leif A. Lier at Oslo Police feels such strong doubts have been raised about the investigation of the «Scandinavian Star»-tragedy that he wants the investigation reviewed.
KATASTROFESKIPET: «Scandinavian Star» was struck by fire in Skagerrak on 7. April 1990. 159 were killed in the fire.
Foto: Odd R. Andersen
Monday 8. December 2003 7:11,
As divisional head at the personell-department at Oslo Police, Lier led the socalled alrting-group in 1990. The task was to deal with the many hundred bereaved of the 159 dead in the fire.
Dagbladet has in a series of articles highlighter how many central aspects connected with the fire have not been cleared up, and that the official answers can be doubted.
The former chief superintendent feels the bereaved ahve suffered so much grief and mourning that they at least deserve that the investigation is reviewed when new information comes to light.
Lier asks that an unbiased group must review the investigation, which after its conclusion has been so exposed to criticism.
- There have been so many presumptions about things having happened that haven't previously been looked at in the case, he says.
He points out that the bereaved have been given painful thoughts and a new reminder that they haven't received all the answers.
- There are sill many out there who are wondering what happened when their loved ones died in the fire. For that reason it is my opinion that the prosecuting authority should initiate a new investigation, to resolve whether all the rumours and claims are true or untrue, says Lier.
Now the motion for a new investigation is being reviewed by the Danish Director of Public Prosecutions. A potential decision about reopening the case will be taken just after new year. The Danish proscution authority is primarily concerned with ownership- and responsibility-arrangements in connection with a potential insurance-fraud about «Scandinavian Star».
Lier feels there is nothing to prevent Norwegian prosecutional authorities from deciding to initiate investigation and examinations of Norwegian affairs.
- We are of course not talking about investigating the fire itself. I am asking that one examines what happened during the investigation in Norway, and what we did or did not do in this case. This is the responsibility of the Norwegian prosecution authority.
- Is there any prestige attached to this?
- Not on my part. Any prestige would in that case relate to all the bereaved I worked with that time, and which I tried to help as well as I could.
- When I have read Dagbladet's series of articles, I think of the bereaved, who have a lot of questions, and aren't getting any answers. Personally I am quite relaxed with regards to what the examinations will show. My point is that the bereaved deserve such a review.
In closing, it is notable that the oft-mentioned forthcoming decision by the Danish Director of Public Prosecutions has yet to come forth. This is perhaps not surprising, given that it in May 2003 was said to be a matter of only a few days. The last promise I heard of it, would have indicated early January 2004, but I have not seen reports of this.