The Italian navy has stepped up its search for survivors of the Norman Atlantic ferry fire in the Adriatic, as nearly 40 passengers remain unaccounted for. As survivor descriptions of the disaster do not correspond with so many deaths, doubts have been raised as to the accuracy of the ship's official manifest. The presence of illegal immigrants as board is also suspected.
Italian Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi told the media that 427 people had been brought to safety by helicopter during the 24-hour rescue operation, along with 10 fatalities.
Lupi said that it was unclear with the discrepancy between the passenger list and the number of people and bodies found, was due to reservations made by people who had not shown up, or people who disembarked at a stopover on the Greek island of Igoumenitsa, or simply errors on the original list.
Admiral Giovanni Pettorino told the media that 80 of those rescued weren't on the manifest at all, giving credence to the suggestion made by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi that illegal immigrants attempting to reach Italy may have been on board.
Smoke and chaos
The Norman Atlantic caught fire on Sunday morning near the Greek island of Corfu, en route to the Italian city of Ancona.
Ferry passengers have recounted that there was no fire alarm or wake-up calls, just thick smoke filling their cabins amid the ensuing disorder. Without help or guidance from the crew, passengers simply scrambled to the deck, only to the soaked by fire hoses and pelting rain while the heat from below burned their feet.
A Greek passenger described the scene as "an image of hell as described by Dante, on a ship where the decks were melting and we were trying to find some place that was not burning to stand on."
"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."
The Italian navy patted itself on the back for its successful around-the-clock rescue mission, and praised the ferry captain, Argilio Giacomazzi, for remaining on board until the last of the passengers and crew were plucked to safety.
A criminal investigation has been launched.
es/rg (AFP, AP)