Lynley Bilby is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Kiwi's cruise ship jump: 'The flames were that close'

As flames started to lick the front deck of the burning cruise ship New Zealander Cathy Kewish knew there was no other choice but to jump for her life into the water.

"You just know you had to do it because the flames were that close. If you didn't you were going to die," said the mum of X-Factor contestant Tom Batchelor.

Mrs Kewish and husband Barry were among 37 international tourists on board the Aphrodite who lept for their lives to escape a fire that engulfed their vessel in the popular Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam.

It was meant to be the dream holiday for the Leeston couple, which included attending an ANZAC memorial in the wartorn country, and ending with an overnight sightseeing cruise. Instead it turned into a fiery nightmare that Mrs Kewish has described as "very, very scary".

Miraculously no one perished in the blaze but Mrs Kewish has described the panic that set in once those herded on to the top deck realised the fast-approaching flames were headed towards them.

"The fire alarms had gone off when were sitting around having brunch," she said.

"The ship's manager said don't panic and it was just the engine overheating and there was no cause for alarm.

"Everyone carried on with their cups of tea."

The smell of smoke grew stronger as the ship docked back in the bay.

The fire alarm resounded and the passengers were directed onto the top level assembly point.

Passengers jump from the blazing cruise ship at Halong Bay. Photo / Andrew McVey
Passengers jump from the blazing cruise ship at Halong Bay. Photo / Andrew McVey

"It turned out that was a really bad place to be," said Mrs Kewish.

"The smoke was getting worse but no one told us to get off. It came down to everyone making their own decision to get the hell off there."

Mrs Kewish said passengers could not see what was happening on lower decks.

Then she spotted their tour guide on shore desperately screaming out to them.

"He started yelling to us from below to get off, get off, get off."

At this point people started clambering down railings over the multi-storey wooden cruise ship trying to reach lower levels before jumping in the water.

"Some people were jumping from the top. One lady injured her ankle so Barry helped her.
"I clambered over the railing and down to the other level."

But blocking her way was a woman frozen with fear.

"I told her you have to get off. Then suddenly there was an explosion and flames shot out so I pushed her."

Mrs Kewish, captured in a dramatic jump from the blazing ship, swam to safety,
Apart from a few bruises and scratches she was unharmed.

But she said the fire did claim a special heirloom keepsake, a ring belonging to her grandmother that had been reset in Vietnam.

"It's at the bottom of the bay but it doesn't matter."

Incredibly just 72 hours after escaping the hair-raising ordeal, she has not been put off returning to Vietnam.

"Despite what happened we would go back in a flash. It is certainly on our bucket list to return there."

- NZ Herald

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