New Investigation Into 1990 Scandinavian Star Ferry Fire

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The Danish government has agreed to start a fresh inquiry into the tragedy that claimed 159 lives in the ocean between Denmark and Norway.

On the night of April 6, 1990, the passenger ferry MS Scandinavian Star caught fire midway through an overnight voyage between Norway and Denmark.

The MS Scandinavian Star showing the fire damage after the disaster at sea
MS Scandinavian Star after the fire. Photo: Terje Fredh / Sjöhistoriska museet.

Of the 395 passengers and 97 crew on board that night, 158 died in the fire. Of those, 136 were Norwegian citizens. An additional passenger lost their life several weeks later from injuries sustained during the fire.

The investigations went on to change onboard fire protection regulations and evacuation guidelines around the world. However, the ultimate cause of the fire remains somewhat shrouded in mystery.

A new investigation

Denmark's justice minister Nick Hækkerup has agreed with several parliamentary parties to set up an independent task force to look again at the case.

Read more: Emergency Services in Norway

The task force will reexamine information about the shipowners and insurance conditions for the case, with the aim of clarifying facts. If the task force uncovers new information, it could lead to the resumption of the criminal investigation.

The Danish parliament building in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The Parliament of Denmark in Copenhagen.

“I am glad that a broad majority has now agreed to have elements investigated in the case of the tragic fire on the Scandinavian Star. We owe this not least to the victims, but also to the bereaved, who to this day are still left with unanswered questions,” said Hækkerup.

Mads Andersen of the Conservative People's Party said “The Scandinavian Star accident is a tragic part of our history, and we are prepared for the matter to be thoroughly investigated.”

Previous investigations

Since the 1990 tragedy, a number of investigations have taken place with varying theories as to the cause.

Read more: Disaster Planning in Norway

At first, Oslo Police suspected a Danish lorry driver with former arson convictions who died in the disaster. However, a 2009 investigation found that a number of separate fires had been started on the night.

Scandinavian Star on fire

An unofficial 2013 report stated the lorry driver died in one of the earlier fires, before later fires were ignited. The report said nine crew members were responsible for starting the fires and for sabotaging efforts to extinguish the fires.

The Danish investigator who led the initial investigation has also claimed the fires were likely a deliberate act by the vessel's crew.

Shipowners and insurance now under the spotlight

The first report concluded that the then 20-year-old Bahamas-registered ferry had been unfit to sail.

It had been taken over by a Danish shipowner just a week before the fire and put to work on a new route with a new crew, many of whom spoke no Danish or Norwegian and limited English.

Read more: The Scandinavian Star Ferry Fire

“The investigation will, in light of questions of doubt that have been raised on an ongoing basis, create greater clarity about the factual circumstances of the case,” said a statement from Denmark's Ministry of Justice.

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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1 thought on “New Investigation Into 1990 Scandinavian Star Ferry Fire”

  1. Hello. My name is Meine Neves and I live in Cornwall England. It is sad to know someone blame the Scandinavian star crew for the start of the fire in the early hours of April the 7 1990, I was there working as a waiter and I was awake in the ballroom when all started. During the pandemonium I had the opportunity to talk to the suspect arsonist, and know he did not join the captain and other survivors in the last lifeboat, later after 2 very busy hours trying to rescue people (we only retrieved 3 bodies). We including the staff captain and two more crew members were rescued by an helicopter from Sweden. Meine


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