On a clear, moonlit night, the 9,786-ton Norwegian motorship Skaubryn plowed through the long swells of the Indian Ocean, six days south of Suez, bound for Australia with 1,088 passengers—mostly German and Maltese emigrants—and a crew of 200. At 8:45 p.m. trouble broke out in the engine room. A disconnected fuel line spurted a torrent of oil £. onto red-hot exhaust pipes. Within seconds, the engine room was a coiling mass of flames. The engine-room crew were driven out before they could even shut off the spurting oil.

As fire sirens wailed and choking smoke poured through the ship, a...

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