“The explosions on board sounded like bombs going off”

Passengers from the stricken Balearic ferry recount their traumatic experiences

Passengers from the ferry arrive in Palma.

“I’m out of work and I’ve been left with absolutely nothing, my truck was on board,” explains José Manuel, 58. “I’ve lost everything I had, even my underwear.”

José Manuel is one of the 156 people who were on board the Sorrento, a ferry belonging to the company Acciona-Trasmediterránea, and who had to be rescued on Tuesday after a fire broke out on the vessel as it made the journey from the Balearic island of Palma de Mallorca to Valencia, on the east coast of mainland Spain.

“I had come to Mallorca to find a job, waiting tables, whatever there was,” says José Manuel. “The fire and the rescue were like something from a Third World country.”

I’ve never seen anything like it, I thought we weren’t going to get out of there”

“I’ve never seen anything like it, I thought we weren’t going to get out of there,” adds Alfredo, another passenger who was rescued from the Sorrento.

All of those on board – crew and passengers, made up of a dozen different nationalities – were able to get off the ferry. All that’s left of the vessel – which was carrying cargo as well as passengers – is a 200-meter-long shell, which is still smoking and is adrift 18 nautical miles off the coast of Mallorca. Work is already underway to ensure that the 753 tons of fuel oil and contaminating chemicals aboard do not make their way into the sea.

The Public Works Ministry will now have to decide on the future of the vessel, which is a threat to the local ecosystem and the tourist sector on the islands. Public Works Minister Ana Pastor has explained that the insurance company that is responsible for the ferry is taking action to deal with the crisis.

The priority was the people. Now we have to avoid any kind of environmental risk, we need to maximize our efforts to minimize the risk” Public Works Minister Ana Pastor

“The priority was the people,” said Pastor in Palma. “Now we have to avoid any kind of environmental risk, we need to maximize our efforts to minimize the risk.”

The people on board the Sorrento, which flew an Italian flag, were able to board the lifeboats and a rubber dinghy, after spending nearly an hour on the ship after it caught fire.

The captain gave the order to abandon ship an hour after having alerted the coastguard of the incident, according to a spokesman for the maritime rescue service in Palma, Miguel Félix Chacón. The captain initially thought that the blaze could be brought under control.

“There were explosions, they sounded like bombs,” explains Alfredo, one of the 76 truck drivers who often cover the route. “I was sleeping, and a colleague told me what was going on. I thought it was a joke and so I carried on sleeping until I heard the alarm, which was when I ran out of there carrying only what I was wearing.”

“If this had happened at night, we wouldn’t be here talking about it.” That was the story told time and again to the Civil Guard by the crew and the passengers when asked about the incident. In the end no one was seriously hurt or killed, but it could have been much worse – that’s the opinion of many in the port of Palma today.

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