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1994: Blazing liner abandoned off east Africa
Almost 1,000 people have been forced to abandon a luxury cruise ship in the Indian Ocean after it caught fire.

The Achille Lauro - which made headlines in 1985 when it was hijacked by Palestinian guerrillas - was sailing 50 miles off the Somali coast when the fire started in one of the cabins.

Two people died and eight were injured during the transfer of passengers from life rafts to a waiting tanker, according to Coastguard officials.

Flames are licking halfway up the vessel
Tanker captain Dimitrios Skapinakis
Starlauro, the ship's Naples-based owners, said it had not established the cause of the blaze but confirmed it did not suspect foul play.

Crew battled with the flames for almost seven hours as passengers - many of whom had paid 2,500 for the trip - gathered on deck.

The captain gave the order to abandon ship at 0500 local time (0200 GMT) after the fire began to burn out of control.

Panamanian registered tanker Hawaiian King was the first of a dozen ships which answered the Achille Lauro's dawn SOS call and rescued most of the passengers.

As night fell, most of the survivors were recovering on the tanker, which had been supplied with extra food by the US Navy cruiser Gettysburg.

It is expected they will now be taken to the Kenyan port, Mombasa, or the Seychelles, which would have been the liner's next port of call.

Dimitrios Skapinakis - captain of another tanker involved in the rescue operation - told reporters he thought the ailing 24,000 ton ship would sink within the next 12 hours.

"The Achille Lauro is listing by at least 40 degrees and you can still see smoke and flames - the passenger decks on the stern side are burning and flames are licking halfway up the vessel," he said.

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Smoke pouring from ship, damage to side
The captain gave the order to abandon ship in the early hours of the morning


In Context
The Achille Lauro was launched as the Willem Ruys in 1947, but new owners changed its name in 1964.

The ship was beset with ill-fortune for the rest of its life.

It suffered serious damage from fires in 1965 and 1972. Three years later it collided with livestock carrier Yousset, which sank.

In December 1981 three passengers were killed during an evacuation after a blaze broke out in the bar.

The most notorious incident occurred in October 1985 when a Palestinian group hijacked the liner and murdered an American passenger.

The ship finally sank two days after the 1994 fire as a salvage vessel towed it to Kenya.

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