More than 500 passengers and crew were evacuated after a fire on the 650’x88’6” ferry Caribbean Fantasy off San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday morning, the Coast Guard said.

At about 7:42 a.m. the Coast Guard received a report of a fire on the car and passenger ferry, about two miles offshore. By 9 a.m. the Coast Guard and local agencies on the scene were evacuating those on board, some 512 people, according to the Coast Guard.

The fire was reported to have started in the engine room and spread to other compartments, according to a statement from the Coast Guard Seventh District headquarters in Miami. In a statement, America Cruise Ferries said its vessel was inbound, minutes from docking, when the fire was detected. The crew “immediately activated the security protocol for the safety of our passengers,” the company said.

By 10 a.m. most of those onboard were off in life rafts and being transferred to Coast Guard and other vessels. At 2 p.m. all passengers and crew were reported to be off the vessel. The evacuees were brought to Pier 6 at the Pan American Pier in San Juan, where medical personnel treated three adults and one child for minor injuries according to city officials.

Multiple air and surface crews responded, including two Coast Guard 33’ special purpose craft crews and one 45’ response boat-medium crew out of Coast Guard Station San Juan. The 154'x26'6"x9'6" Coast Guard cutter Joseph Tezanos and a small boat from the cutter Donald Horsley responded. Local units assisting included the Puerto Rico Joint Forces of Action (FURA), fire, pilot and tugboats from the port.

By mid-afternoon the Caribbean Fantasy was aground about a half-mile off Punta Salinas west of the port, the fire still burning. Standing by with Coast Guard vessels were the 97’x30’x9’ 3,000-hp tugboat Honcho, operated by Puerto Rico Towing, and the 109’x29’x16’4” 3,000-hp Beth McAllister and 105’x34’x13’6” 4,000-hp Brooklyn McAllister, both Z-drives operated by McAllister Towing and Transportation Co.     

The Caribbean Fantasy provided a three-days-weekly service from San Juan to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Built in 1989, the vessel can carry up to 1,080 passengers.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.