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Oltenita blaze baffles investigators

FOUR days into the investigation, police and fire fighters still could not say what caused the Romanian cruise ship Oltenita to burst into flames on October 2 as it ferried tourists along the Danube River. The fire, which broke out as the ship passed the village of Sap in southern Slovakia's Trnava region, killed one female crewmember.

NORWEGIAN and Belgian pensioners leapt for their lives into the Danube River as their ship went down in flames.
photo: TASR

FOUR days into the investigation, police and fire fighters still could not say what caused the Romanian cruise ship Oltenita to burst into flames on October 2 as it ferried tourists along the Danube River. The fire, which broke out as the ship passed the village of Sap in southern Slovakia's Trnava region, killed one female crewmember.

According to the SITA news agency, when the crew failed to extinguish the fire they steered the ship into the riverbank. Some passengers, fearing for their lives, jumped into the water and swam to shore.

Most of the nearly 80 tourists rescued from the Oltenita were pensioners from Norway and Belgium. A post-evacuation medical examination deemed all the passengers "all right". The tourists were scheduled to return home October 4.

Ambassadors to Slovakia from both countries confirmed that none of the tourists suffered severe injuries. However, the Norwegian ambassador to Slovakia, Brit Lovseth, said that the rescued tourists ran into some problems regarding their health. Along with their luggage, the pensioners had to leave behind their personal belongings, including heart medicines, medicines for diabetes and other illnesses. Some of this medication could not be bought in Slovakia.

Other items were more easily replaced. The Belgian ambassador to Slovakia, Olivier Belle, told SITA that the Slovak police provided the tourists with new travel documents quite quickly. He added that Slovakia even arranged for extra clothes to be given to the stranded pensioners.

Meanwhile, investigators are still trying to identify the cause of the fire.

Štefan Mentel, the head of the investigation team, says they have to rely on eyewitness accounts from crewmembers. "We can only communicate through an interpreter and this is a problem," he told the TASR news agency.

According to Mentel, the only part of the ship still above the water line is the passenger cabin area. The place where the fire is assumed to have broken out is submerged.


- Martina Jurinová

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