Two Albanian sailors have died during efforts to tow a wrecked Greek ferry that has been adrift on the Adriatic Sea since a fire broke out on board. The official death toll from the disaster has reached 12.
Police said the sailors were on a tugboat when they were reportedly hit by a rope they had attached to the charred Norman Atlantic ferry near the Albanian port of Vlore on Tuesday.
"One man died on the spot when one cable broke after it got stuck in the propeller. The other died on board a few minutes ago when being assisted by a helicopter medical team," a port authority official told Reuters.
The crippled ferry has been drifting in the Adriatic Sea since one of its car decks caught fire near the Greek island of Corfu on Sunday. The official death toll from the disaster now stands at 12.
Dutch company Smit Salvage is overseeing the operations to secure the ferry after 427 people, including 56 crew, were safely evacuated during a 36-hour rescue mission that ended on Monday.
Martijn Schuttevaer, a spokesman for Smit's parent company Royal Boskalis Smit, said one line had been successfully connected to the ship early Tuesday, and that the priority was to get a heavier tow line attached. It was not clear if that was the operation underway when the Albanian sailors were struck.
‘Still smoke' on board
The Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic, chartered by Greek ferry operator ANEK Lines, was sailing from Patras in western Greece to Ancona in Italy when the blaze broke out on board.
According to Schuttevaer, crews were still patrolling the vessel to put out any remaining fire.
"There is still smoke," he said.
Meanwhile, authorities say discrepancies in the ferry's passenger list of 478 people are making it difficult to know how many individuals were on board, or how many of them, if any, are still missing.
Italian Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi said it was possible there were illegal migrants on board, and added that authorities were looking for a definitive list of passengers to cross-check it with the names of survivors.
Italian and Albanian magistrates ordered that the ship be seized in order to investigate the cause of the fire, which is still unknown, and magistrates in both countries are deciding together where the vessel should be towed, Italy's Transport Ministry said in a statement.
nm/es (Reuters, AP, dpa)