A fire broke out on a ferry off Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean on Tuesday, forcing the evacuation of 156 passengers and crew in lifeboats and injuring three crew members, officials said.

The ferry operated by Trasmediterranea was travelling from Palma de Mallorca, the capital of the Balearic Islands, to the eastern Spanish port of Valencia when the blaze broke out in its garage for still unknown reasons, the company said in a statement.

“Everyone has been evacuated,” a company spokeswoman told AFP.

Passengers and crew abandoned the Sorrento ferry in lifeboats after it became clear that the fire could not be brought under control with the means on board, Spain’s coastguard said in a statement.

Four crew members were rescued from the Sorrento ferry by helicopter while the rest of the crew and passengers, including a baby, were picked up by another ferry which was in the area at the time, Trasmediterranea said.

Three crew members who were rescued by helicopter suffered smoke inhalation, the Mallorca port authority said. It had initially said there were about 170 passengers on board the ferry.

The fire broke out at 1.50pm when the ferry was 20 nautical miles (37km) off the coast of Palma de Mallorca, Trasmediterranea said.

Photos published by the online edition of regional daily Diario de Mallorca showed thick plumes of black smoke rising from the vessel.

The ferry’s captain at first felt it was not necessary to evacuate but he then gave the order to abandon ship “due to the intensity of the fire”, Spain’s coastguard said.

The coastguard dispatched four of its ships and a helicopter and ordered other passenger ships in the area to help in the rescue operation.

Spain’s Guardia Civil police sent a helicopter to the scene as well.

Port authority officials said the abandoned ferry could sink because of the damage suffered in the blaze.

The 186-metre (610-ft) long ferry can carry up to 1,000 people and 150 vehicles, according to Trasmediterranea’s website.

The ferry belongs to Italy’s Atlantica CSPA di Navigazione but is operated by Trasmediterranea, a unit of Spanish infrastructure firm Acciona.

Trasmediterranea bills itself as Spain’s largest shipping company, with over 20 passenger and freight ferries linking mainland Spain with the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic.

Source: theguardian.com