COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Danish lawmakers agreed Wednesday to set up a task force to look into a 1990 ferry fire that killed 159 people, which could lead to a new police investigation into one of Scandinavia’s worst peacetime maritime disasters.
Justice Minister Nick Haekkerup said the task force would focus on the shipowner and the vessel's insurance. The Social Democratic government said in a statement that “we owe this not least to the victims, but also to the survivors, who to this day continue to be left with unanswered questions.”
Haekkerup added that the aim is to find out “whether there are grounds for the police to launch a further investigation.”
The Scandinavian Star was engulfed in flames on an overnight run from the Norwegian capital of Oslo to Frederikshavn, northern Denmark. Many of the mostly Norwegian passengers died huddled together in cabins or trapped in corridors.
Norwegian police initially concluded that the fire started around 2 a.m., on April 7, 1990, and was probably set by a 37-year-old Danish truck driver who died in the blaze. It is believed that the ferry had been carrying 395 passengers and 97 crew.
A later probe determined that there were several separate fires and that several people would have been needed to start them. Relatives claimed that the fire had been started by crew members and the motive was insurance fraud. The ship had been allegedly insured for twice its value shortly before the fire broke out.
In 2014, the investigation was reopened and the Danish truck driver — who had three previous convictions for arson — was posthumously cleared of having started the blaze.
The first report concluded that the 20-year-old Bahamas-registered ferry had been unfit to sail. A Danish shipper had taken over the Scandinavian Star ferry on March 30 and sailed on its new route two days later with a new crew. The report also concluded that the ferry’s fire alarms were difficult to hear, the crew lacked safety training, and the captain abandoned ship when he should have been leading rescue efforts on board. Safety equipment such as sprinklers, that could have prevented the disaster, were missing.
The shipowner has since died and the company that operated the ferry doesn't exist anymore.