UPDATE: Twelve passengers on board one of the biggest cruise ships in the world were injured when an explosion in a fuel storage tank rocked the port of Gibraltar.
Independence of the Seas, carrying more than 4,000 passengers, felt the full force of the explosion, according to reports on Gibraltar Radio. The ship made an emergency departure, pulling up its gangways and moving further out at sea.
The cruise terminal on the North Mole was immediately evacuated and two passengers were left behind.
Dense black smoke billowed from the blazing oil tank after the blast, which was felt up to a mile away. Police have not ruled out a terrorist involvement, but the more likely cause appears to have been welding work which was being carried out on the top of the tank.
A Spanish workman was seriously injured and after being taken to a local hospital was transferred to a specialist unit in Seville. A policeman received burns while attempting to rescue him.
Flights in and out of Gibraltar airport were temporarily suspended as the tank continued to burn out of control well into the night.
A spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines said today that the 12 injured passengers – 11 of them from the UK – sustained minor injuries including burns, abrasions and a dislocated finger. They have been treated by the medical team on board.
The two passengers who were still ashore when the explosion happened were not injured. The cruise line is arranging for them to rejoin the ship on Thursday in France.
Independence left Southampton on Saturday for a 14-night Mediterranean cruise. It arrived in Gibraltar, the first port of call, this morning and was due to depart at 4.00 pm, about the same time as the explosion. It is now continuing with its scheduled itinerary to Cannes, Barcelona, Palma, Alicante, Lisbon and Vigo. Of the 4,153 passengers on board, 3,894 are from the UK and Ireland.
Cruise ship Ocean Princess arrived in Gibraltar this morning. Instead of tying up, the ship was anchored a few hundred yards off-shore and passengers were taken ashore by tender.
A video posted to YouTube by a Gibraltarian known as “Mendenge” shows Independence of the Seas pulling out of port as the fire raged.