Passengers evacuated from burning ship

Passengers evacuated from burning ship

More than 500 passengers and crew are being evacuated from a burning ship about a mile off Puerto Rico's north coast.

The fire was still burning aboard the Caribbean Fantasy, a combination cruise and ferry vessel, as the US coast guard began bringing passengers into San Juan harbour while helicopters whirred overheard.

The coast guard said all passengers had been evacuated, though it was still rescuing 26 crew members.

The ship was arriving in San Juan when the fire broke out, coast guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad said.

Gyno Funes said 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.

Several dozen people who were carried in on stretchers were being treated for dehydration, high blood pressure and respiratory problems from the smoke, said fire department spokesman Juan Vega. One stretcher held a man hooked up to an IV who was cradling a newborn baby wearing only a nappy.

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 heading 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 on to city buses to be taken out of the area.

They included Fiordalise Pitchard, who travelled to Puerto Rico on holiday.

"I feel nervous," she said, her hands trembling. "I was in the restaurant when I saw the smoke. I'm giving all the glory to the Lord today."

Anguished relatives of passengers, including Hilda Pereira, pushed their way on to the scene.

Her daughter, whom she has not seen for 14 years, was aboard the boat.

Ms Pereira said she was at the beauty salon when her sister called to notify her.

"She said, 'You need to be strong,'" Ms Pereira said. "The ferry has caught on fire."

The fire erupted in the engine room and was spreading to the rest of the ship, Miami-based coast guard spokeswoman Marilyn Fajardo said.

The ships run several times weekly between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic..