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Tourists Jump into the Sea as Boat Catches Fire and Sinks on the Great Barrier Reef

May 12, 2016 04:29 AM EDT
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Lady Musgrave Island
The boat was said to be 10 nautical miles from Lady Musgrave Island on the Great Barrier Reef when the fire broke out at around 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
(Photo : Inderstar / Pixabay)

A group of tourists aboard the Spirit of 1770 was forced to escape on life rafts when the 23-meter catarman became engulfed in flames and started sinking on the Great Barrier Reef off the central Queensland coast in Australia.

There were reportedly 46 people on board when a suspected explosion was heard in the engine room. Crew members were unable to contain the flames, so this prompted the tourists-majority of whom were Chinese and who couldn't swim-to flee the boat and save themselves.

According to Queensland police, 19 tourists were sent to hospitals in Bundaberg and Gladstone to treat suspected fractures in the ribs, chest and back pains, and other ailments such as mild hypothermia and seasickness.

The boat returning to the town of 1770-which was named after the year British explorer James Cook and the crew of HM Endeavour landed on the stretch of coast-when the incident happened. The boat was said to be 10 nautical miles from Lady Musgrave Island on the Great Barrier Reef when the fire broke out at around 4 p.m. on Wednesday.

All 42 passengers together with four crew evacuated the burning boat on life rafts. The passengers suffered mild hypothermia as temperatures dropped below 10 degrees that Wednesday evening, but none reportedly suffered serious injuries.

Marine rescue crews were immediately sent to locate the group of tourists but they only reached shore after several hours. Police and rescue teams successfully evacuated the group to the Toolooa boat ramp in Gladstone, where paramedics were waiting to check for injuries.

According to witnesses, the fire was the biggest thing they've ever seen and the incident was a terrifying experience for them.

This is not the first time a Spirit of 1770 had trouble out at sea. In January 2015, the boat was ferrying passengers back from Lady Musgrave Island when it got hit by a "freak wave" and smashed into the shore. 

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