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A fire raged through a cruise ship early Saturday as it sailed off Cyprus, sending more than 650 passengers and crew fleeing in lifeboats and helicopters.

The MS Romantica, a 10,500-ton Cypriot vessel, was carrying European tourists on a Mediterranean cruise to Port Said, Egypt.

"The boat burned like hell. We were lucky to get out alive, but I've lost everything," said the ship's photographer, a Briton who gave only the name Chris.

The Cypriot ship Princessa Victoria reached the area, 65 miles off Cyprus, half an hour after picking up a distress signal and found passengers -- many still in pajamas -- already in lifeboats.

Helicopters from a British base in Cyprus winched the last passengers and the captain from the deck of the blazing vessel. All the evacuees -- 482 passengers and 182 crew members -- were taken aboard the Victoria.

Initial reports said the fire had started in the engine room, but the cause was still unknown.