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Burning Greek ferry towed to Italy

December 28, 2014

A ferry which caught fire during its journey from Greece to Italy is to be towed to Italy's mainland. One person has died, while hundreds more are still stranded on the ship in the Adriatic Sea.

Norman Atlantic ferry
Image: Reuters/Marina Militare

Italian officials said the Norman Atlantic ferry would probably be taken to either Brindisi or Otranto on Italy's southern coast once towing cables could be securely attached.

Airlifts were also set to continue throughout Sunday night whilst the boat was towed towards mainland Italy.

The Italian navy said that two Italian air force helicopters, one Greek Superpuma helicopter, and an Italian plane were continuing to take part in the rescue, pulling up passengers in small groups. Other aircraft and 10 ships were also taking part in the operation in support roles.

Throughout Sunday, firefighting vessels and helicopters from Greece and Italy were sent to the scene as part of a rescue operation coordinated by Italy. Efforts were hindered, however, by extreme weather conditions.

One death

Italian Coast Guard official Giovanni Pettorino confirmed earlier on Sunday that one person had died during the rescue operation and another had been injured - both of whom were transported by Italian rescuers to the country's mainland.

The Italian-flagged ANEK Lines ferry is thought to have set ablaze after a fire broke out in the lower deck garage of the boat in the early hours of Sunday morning. At the time the ferry was about 44 nautical miles off the coast of Corfu, after leaving the Greek port of Patras en route to Ancona in Italy.

Intense heat

Hundreds were left stranded on smoke-filled top decks as the fire spread throughout the vessel. Passengers contacted Greek television stations via mobile phone to describe their horror as high winds, rain and violent seas lashed the burning ferry. Various passengers also reported that the heat was so intense that shoes had started to melt.

In total, there were 478 passengers and crew aboard the ship, around 234 of whom were said to be Greek. According to the German Foreign Office, 18 Germans were also on board.

ksb/es (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)