The luxury cruise ship Angelina Lauro, ablaze from stem to stern, settled to the bottom of St. Thomas Harbor and burned long into the night.
Flames soarted high into the air from the above water decks of the 700-foot-long Italian cruise ship, which was described as a total loss. But officials said that all the 675 passengers and 374 crew members were safe.
Most of the passengers were ashore when the fire broke out in the ship's aft gallery, about 4 p.m. Those who were aboard were all led to safety, according to harbor officials.
But others said it may be days before all are accounted for. The ship's captain issued a call for all passengers and crew to report to a nearly school to be counted.
Fire department, police, Civil Defense, National Guard, Coast Guard and U.S. Navy personnel were calles out to fight the blaze that spread dangerously close to a large dockside fuel depot.
Capt. Scotto de Carlo of Naples, Italy, the ship's home port, said his vessel was "touching bottom on its port side," and it would be impossible to move the burning hulk. Earlier, officials had considered having two Navy destroyers tow the blazing vessel out to sea in order to lessen the danger to the harbor.
A deck stewart about 25 passengers and about 55 members of the crew were aboard when the fire broke out. He said there was "absolutely no crew members were taken off the vessel by a hook-and-ladder trucks.
Firefighters abandoned the smokeshrouded hulk as it settled into the mud, but continued pouring water into the ship, trying to flood the engine rooms to keep the flames from reaching 1,400 tons of diesel oil in the tanks below decks.
three other cruise ships were tied up at the West indian Co. dock in this tourist port, and the ship nearest the Angelina Lauro put to sea, leaving a space of about 1,000 feet between the fire and other vessels.
The 40-year-old ship made weekly voyages out of San Juan, Puerto Rico with stops in St. Martin, Guadeloupe, Granade, Caracas and St. Thomas.