Europe

Scores await rescue from Italy ferry

 

More than 160 people are still awaiting rescue on the deck of a blazing Italian ferry amid freezing temperatures off the Greek island of Corfu.

Helicopter crews have been winching small groups of people to safety despite gale-force winds.

Greek officials said 316 of the 478 people on board had been evacuated by early Monday.

One person died trying to escape from the ship. The fire reportedly broke out on a car deck before dawn on Sunday.

The ferry Norman Atlantic was travelling from Patras in Greece to Ancona in Italy.

Passengers described panicking as the heat rose, then freezing as they stood on decks awaiting rescue.

The wife of one of the cooks told journalists she had had a call from her husband saying: “I cannot breathe, we are all going to burn like rats – God save us.”

Another passenger told Greek TV station Mega: “We are outside, we are very cold, the ship is full of smoke, the boat is still burning, the floors are boiling, underneath the cabins it must be burning since 5 o’clock, the boats that came (to rescue us) are gone, and we are here. They cannot take us.”

HYPOTHERMIA

Helicopters crews fitted with night vision equipment worked through the night to rescue passengers despite difficult conditions. One hundred people were taken off the ferry during the night, the Italian coast guard said.

Italian Air Force helicopter pilot, Maj Antonio Laneve told Italian state TV that “acrid smoke” had filled his helicopter cabin, making the rescue even more challenging.

Most of the rescued passengers have been transferred to nearby ships, although some have been taken directly to hospital.

Three children and a pregnant woman are among those being treated in hospital for hypothermia, according to the Associated Press news agency.

The first rescue ship carrying 49 people arrived at the port of Bari early on Monday morning.

The BBC’s James Reynolds says that emergency workers in the port of Brindisi had waited late into the night for rescued passengers to arrive but had strong winds forced rescue vessels to try to dock elsewhere on the Italian coast.

The Italian navy said that the body of a Greek man and his injured wife had also been removed from the ship.

Nearby merchant vessels aligned themselves in formation to protect the ship from waves and facilitate the rescue.

“This is a complicated rescue mission. The visibility is poor and the weather conditions are difficult, but we are confident because there are a good number of ships in the area,” Greece Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said.

Varvitsiotis later told reporters the fire had been brought partly under control.

Most of those on board were Greek. Others came from Italy, Turkey, Albania, Germany and many other countries, officials said.

A passenger manifest said that two Britons were on board, but the BBC understands that there may have been as many as six.

It is unclear how her husband died but the Greek coastguard told AP that both passengers had been found trapped in a lifeboat escape chute.

Coast Guard Adm Giovanni Pettorino said that a member of the Italian military had also been injured during the rescue.

It is not yet clear what caused the fire.

The chief executive of the Visentini group that owns the vessel, Carlo Visentini, said the ferry had passed a recent technical inspection despite a “slight malfunction” in one of the fire doors, Italy’s Ansa news agency reports.

“The tests confirmed that the boat was in full working order,” he said, adding that the fire door had been repaired “to the satisfaction of the inspectors”.

Ferries are an important mode of transport between Greece’s hundreds of islands as well as neighbouring countries.

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