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San Juan Archipelago, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 750, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

31 October 2014

❖ 32 Lost from the METEOR ❖

Norwegian death ship heading to drydock.
METEOR, near Vancouver, B.C.
32 crew members died in a fire on board
May 1971
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©
"A tragic marine disaster in Pacific Northwest water was the sudden fire which swept the Norwegian cruise liner METEOR during the early morning hours of 22 May 1971, claiming the lives of 32 crew members.
      The METEOR, a 297-ft motor liner of 2,856 gross tons, built in 1955, had arrived only recently as the first Scandinavian vessel to enter the increasingly popular British Columbia-Alaska cruise trade, with North Land Tours of Seattle as general agents. She was returning from one of her first cruises to the north, carrying only 67 passengers and a crew of 91 when the flash fire broke out below decks forward in the crew area as she was passing Texada Island in the Strait of Georgia, only 60 miles from Vancouver. The flames spread with such incredible rapidity that the 32 victims were trapped below decks and burned or suffocated to death in a matter of minutes. There was little or no apparent exterior damage to the ship.
      The METEOR broadcast a mayday call on VHF Ch 6, but not on the international distress frequency, which is the only one required by law to be monitored by other vessels. Fortunately, the Alaska State ferry MALASPINA, which was in the immediate vicinity, was monitoring both channels and responded quickly to the call, as did Northland Navigation's motor vessel ISLAND PRINCE and the coastal tanker B.C. STANDARD, and several smaller craft. Using boats from the METEOR and MALASPINA, all passengers and four injured crew members were taken aboard the ferry and returned to Vancouver. Most of the passengers were still in nightclothes, so sudden was the disaster and subsequent evacuation of the liner. All of them were united in their praise of the METEOR's surviving crew for their efficiency in fighting the fire and in awakening and evacuating the passengers safely.

Survivors of fire aboard 
the cruise ship METEOR.
22 May 1971.
Near Vancouver, BC.
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©
      The Can. Coast Guard cutters RACER and READY and salvage tug SUDBURY II stood by the METEOR playing hoses on the fire until it was under control, after which the Norwegian vessel reached Vancouver under her own power, although listing about 15 degrees to starboard.
      At the subsequent investigation, Capt. Alf Morner, the METEOR's master, told a grisly story of men 'crawling like animals' through smoke-filled corridors in an attempt to save trapped crew members in the forward section. His voice cracked by sobs, Capt. Morner told an inquest jury at Vancouver he led a small party of men into the fire areas shortly after the fire broke out. He said he shook some bodies he came across and was shocked to learn they were dead because they had not been burned. A Norwegian investigating commission attributed the fire to negligence on the part of one of the crew members, probably through careless disposal of a cigarette.* Apparently, the negligent seaman was one of those who died in the fire.
      Capt. John A. Boden, the Canadian pilot who was aboard the METEOR at the time of the fire, testified that the firefighting efforts of the surviving members of the crew and the work of the two Can. Coast Guard cutters saved the ship from total loss. Capt. Harold Payne, in command of the MALASPINA at the time of the rescue, was subsequently given an award of commendation by Governor William A. Egan of Alaska for him and his crew.

*John Clark, the ship's second engineer, testified that he believed the tragic episode was caused by a misplaced cigarette that may have fallen off a table and set fire to something flammable, spreading to the heavily varnished woodwork. He reasoned that if varnish is heated sufficiently it will ignite, which Clark said would account for the incredible speed with which the fire spread to the crews' quarters on the lower decks."
The above quote from the H. W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest 1966 to 1976, pg. 104-105.

Seen in Seattle, May 1970.

Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©

The Norwegian cruise ship METEOR docked at Pier 48, Seattle, WA., May 1970, one year before her tragic fire. She was owned by the Bergen Lines, the first Scandinavian ship in the trade on the West Coast.


  1. Great post with a lot of information I didn't know. Appreciate all the work you put into researching and posting these articles.

  2. Please can you tell me if there is a memorial plaque somewhere ? ( My husbands aunt was a member of the crew that sadly lost their life in this tragedy ) . We are visiting Vancouver in a couple of months and hoped to visit a memorial but am unable to find any information if one exists. Thank you

  3. My father was on the Sudbury II. He told me about being 2 decks below as the ship began to list. He said he ran up the 2 decks so quickly and his heart was pumping. He told me the story with sadness for those lost. Sorry for your family's loss, Debe.

  4. My father was chief purser onboard. We did not know if he had survived or not. Suddenly on direct broadcasting on the Norwegian news they said that they had contact with one of the crew, and that was my father. That was an emotional moment.

    1. So glad your father made it! Thanks so much for reading the Log and taking time to write across the waves.


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