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OSLO, Norway – Police suspect an explosion in a ship's engine room caused a fire that killed two crew, injured nine and forced passengers to evacuate a popular cruise off Norway's craggy western coast Thursday as heavy smoke billowed from the boat.
"Our suspicion is that there was an explosion in the machine room," Acting Police Chief Yngve Skovly at Sunnmoere Police District said at a press conference.
Aalesund hospital said nine people had been admitted, two with serious burns and smoke injuries. Police said all of the injured and dead are crew.
Skovly said all 207 passengers and 55 crew on board the MS Nordlys are now accounted for.
Head of the fire brigade in Aalesund Geir Thorsen said they are now in control of the fire, but the ship is taking in water and listing 10 degrees.
"Our main challenge now is the stability of the ship," he said. Two units of firefighters specializing in offshore fires were involved in the operation.
Thorsen described the fire as "big and intense." He could not confirm reports that the fire-extinguishing system onboard the ship did not work, but said the electricity system was knocked out.
"There are no indications that the fire had spread to other rooms in the ship," he said.
Evacuation started after the fire began at about 9 a.m. (0700 GMT), before it was due to call in at the port of Aalesund, 230 miles (375 kilometers) northwest of the capital Oslo. More than 100 passengers were evacuated into lifeboats before the ship reached port.
We were sent up on deck and given our lifevests," Danielle Passebois-Paya, a French tourist, told Norwegian daily Aftenposten. "It took only a few minutes after the alarm and we were in the lifeboats," she said.
"It was a well-organized evacuation," she added. "The crew did a really good job. Everything was calm and went smoothly. There was no panic."
The remaining passengers and crew clambered off the boat after it docked, with thick black smoke still billowing from the engine room at the rear of the vessel. Police said they then sealed off parts of the town as the smoke engulfed nearby buildings.
The MS Nordlys, traveling north from Bergen, plies the Norwegian coast on the popular 1,500-mile (2,500- kilometer) cruise between the southwestern city and Kirkenes, high above the Arctic Circle near the Russian border.
Aalesund, with a population of 42,000, is known as an art nouveau town and a popular tourist attraction once voted the prettiest in Norway.