SAN JUAN – Hundreds of passengers were evacuated on Wednesday from a ferry that caught fire as it was preparing to dock in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but no one was seriously injured, officials said.
U.S. Coast Guard and Puerto Rican police vessels evacuated the Caribbean Fantasy’s passengers, who are being treated on the pier at the Port of San Juan by emergency services personnel.
Some passengers are being treated for smoke inhalation and several were taken to a San Juan hospital for treatment of shock, police said.
Paramedics are evaluating passengers to determine whether they should be transported to a hospital.
The most serious cases among the passengers, who were traveling to Puerto Rico from the Dominican Republic, involve shock and sea sickness, San Juan emergency management chief Nazario Lugo said.
The Caribbean Fantasy, which is operated by American Cruise Ferries, sailed from Santo Domingo on Tuesday night and caught fire about five kilometers (3.1 miles) off San Juan.
The cause of the fire has not been determined, officials said.
Passenger Giovani Cesar, a Dominican who was traveling to Puerto Rico for a cycling race, told EFE on the pier that there was chaos on the ship and the crew did not know how to respond to the emergency.
“I was in my cabin when I started to feel discomfort in my throat, so I went to the reception area, where you could see the smoke,” Cesar said.
“That’s when the chaos broke out. They put us in a boat that had a lot of trouble being lowered to the sea due to some problems with the cables,” Cesar said, adding that the crew mismanaged the ship’s evacuation.
The fire broke out around 8:00 a.m. as the Caribbean Fantasy was approaching San Juan, and Coast Guard and emergency services personnel quickly responded, launching an operation that is ongoing.
The ferry sailed from Santo Domingo without any problems on Tuesday night and the crew detected the fire as the vessel prepared to dock in San Juan, America Cruise Ferries CEO Nestor Gonzalez said.
The Caribbean Fantasy underwent a routine inspection recently and no mechanical problems were found, the Coast Guard’s spokesman in San Juan, Ricardo Castrodad, said.
Officials closed off access to the port, causing huge traffic jams across San Juan.
Passengers’ relatives rushed to the Port of San Juan to see their loved ones.
The Caribbean Fantasy, according to different sources, was carrying between 300 and 500 people on its trip from Santo Domingo to San Juan.