Following a round-the-clock rescue effort and a towing operation that cost a further two lives, a ferry that caught fire arrived at port. The cause of the fire, and how many remain missing, is still under investigation.
The ravaged Norman Atlantic ferry arrived in Brindisi, Italy, on Friday, five days after a fire on board led to the deaths of 13 people. Investigators said the first course of action is to determine if there are more victims trapped inside what remains of the vessel, and then to discover the cause of the blaze.
"Given that the ship was indisputably carrying illegal migrants who were probably hidden in the hold, we fear that we'll find more dead people once we recover the wreck," said Giuseppe Volpe, the Italian prosecutor leading the investigation, according to Reuters news agency.
Reports of how many passengers remain missing have varied greatly, as the ship's official manifest was incorrect. The Greek Coast Guard said on Thursday that 18 remain unaccounted for, while Volpe said the number may be as high as 98.
Rescue operations praised, crew criticized
The ship caught alight on one of the lower garage levels, leaving the vessel to drift without power off the Greek island of Corfu. The passengers huddled on the upper deck, facing freezing winds and rain from above and burning heat from below, while the Italian and Greek rescue teams carried out a 36 hour rescue operation, saving 477 lives by lifting them up into helicopters.
In his year end address, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi praised the effort of the Italian Coast Guard, and lauded the ship's captain, Argilio Giacomazzi, for staying on board until everyone else was evacuated, though the rescued passengers have criticized the crew for mishandling the emergency and not sounding the fire alarm.
The passengers also allege that they received no guidance or instructions from the crew on how to proceed.
"Everyone was trampling on each other to get onto the helicopter," one survivor told The Associated Press, while another recalled that "the jungle law prevailed. There was no queue or order. No respect was shown for children."
11 passengers have been confirmed dead, and two Albanian sailors were killed while helping tow the ship to the Italian coast.
The Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic was chartered by a Greek ferry operator and was on its way to Ancona, Italy, from Patras in western Greece.
Following the disaster on the ferry, the Italian military has had to rescue two large cargo ships carrying hundreds of migrants. In both cases, crews jumped ship at the first sign of the authorities.
es/ksb (AP, dpa, Reuters)