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More than 500 rescued from burning ship

Published:Thursday | August 18, 2016 | 12:58 AM

Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP):

More than 500 passengers and crew were evacuated yesterday from a burning ship about a mile off Puerto Rico's north coast, and many required medical care, though there were no reported fatalities.

The fire continued to burn aboard the Caribbean Fantasy, a combination cruise and ferry ship, as the US Coast Guard brought passengers into the San Juan harbour while helicopters whirred overheard. Other agencies and even private vessels joined in the effort.

"The boat's systems have collapsed. It's not safe anymore to work inside the boat," said Angel Crespo, director of Puerto Rico's Emergency Management Agency.

The Coast Guard said all passengers were evacuated.

The fire apparently had been burning for some time before the alarm was sounded. Gyno Funes told The Associated Press he was one of two mechanics in the control room when a hose carrying fuel burst open and caught on fire.

"We were trying to extinguish it for two hours, but couldn't," said the other mechanic, Marlon Doblado, after the two reached shore.

Dominican passenger Maria Prensa said she was collecting her luggage when she smelled smoke. "I asked and they told me it was nothing, it was under control," she said.

Crespo said 256 people had been treated, mostly for heat stroke, shock and dehydration, and 10 remained hospitalised. The territory's health secretary, Ana Rius, said eight people suffered broken bones during the evacuation.

On the docks, several dozen people were carried in on stretchers, one of which held a man hooked to an IV line who was cradling a bawling newborn baby clad only in a diaper.

The injured were followed by a small group of children who held hands as they disembarked the Coast Guard boats.

The mostly Dominican passengers included dozens of school-age athletes headed to competitions in Puerto Rico, including a 22-member cycling team, a girls' volleyball team and a boys' baseball team.

Passengers found to be in good health were loaded onto city buses to be taken to the ship's original destination, where they went through customs.

The fire erupted in the engine room and was spreading to the rest of the ship, Miami-based Coast Guard spokeswoman Marilyn Fajardo said by phone.

The ship runs several times weekly between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.