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Norman Atlantic ferry fire: One killed and hundreds still trapped as passengers are airlifted from burning Greece-Italy boat

Rescue workers are battling to airlift passengers off a burning ferry adrift in the Adriatic Sea. Italian and Greek helicopter crews contended with darkness and bad weather to pluck passengers off the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic and transfer them to a nearby vessel, after a dramatic day that began when a fire broke out on its lower deck in the early hours.

Authorities confirmed that one Greek man had died and there were reports that a further four people had been injured. As night fell hundreds of people remained trapped on board the burning vessel off the Greek island of Corfu, with rescuers frantically struggling to reach them amid gale-force winds and lashing rain. On Sunday evening Italian authorities said 190 people of the 478 people had been evacuated.

Two Britons were among the 422 passengers and 56 crew members on board the vessel, travelling from Patras in Greece to Ancona in Italy. A fire broke out on the car deck shortly after the ferry left the port of Igoumenitsa on Sunday morning, spreading rapidly through the ship. [...]

Passengers still awaiting rescue described harrowing scenes as the burning ship continued to be rocked by heavy storms. “The ship is still burning. The floors are scorching hot. We are choking from the fumes... we are drenched and shaking,” passenger Giorgos Styliaras told a local television station.

Five military helicopters, two planes and eight ships were dispatched to help with the effort, but passengers feared the terrible weather would foil their rescue. “We’re burning and we’re sinking. No one can save us,” said Nikos Papatheodossiou. “They can’t reach our ship and fire is expanding: help, help, we’re asking for help.”

Another passenger told Greek television station Mega: “On the lower deck, where the lifeboats are, our shoes were starting to melt from the heat.”

Officials said the ferry was 44 nautical miles northwest of the island of Corfu when it issued a distress call. Hours later, the Italian captain said the ship was drifting towards the Albanian coast and that the crew had managed to contain the blaze.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said he was in touch with his Greek counterpart Antonis Samaras. “We’re working on saving all the passengers and we’re trying to ensure that no-one, no-one, will be left without help during this difficult situation,” said Greece’s Merchant Marine ministry Militadis Varvitsiotis. “It is one of the most complicated rescue operations we’ve ever had to deal with.”

The Independent - Nathalie Savaricas and Chris Green - 28 December 2014


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