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Italy ferry ordeal over, 10 dead

December 29, 2014

At least ten people have died after Sunday's fire aboard a car ferry in the Adriatic Sea, with dozens of passengers still unaccounted for. A difficult 30-hour rescue mission has now ended, with the entire ship evacuated.

Brand auf Fähre in der Adria Norman Atlantic 29.12.2014 Rettung
Image: Reuters/Marina Militare

More than 400 people aboard the Norman Atlantic ferry have been taken off the vessel, after bad weather hampered a joint rescue mission by teams from Greece, Italy and Albania.

The ferry caught fire early on Sunday about 44 nautical miles off the Greek island of Corfu, headed to the Italian port of Ancona. It is unclear how the fire broke out.

The Italian navy says only a skeleton crew is onboard the ship to prepare for the towing to port.

"The rescue operation is one of the most complicated to date because of the rough seas, heavy rain and gale-force winds," Greek Merchant Marine Minister Miltiades Varvisiotis said.

The body of a 62-year-old Greek man was pulled from the sea on Sunday. Another nine bodies were found on Monday. It appears that many passengers supposed to be on the boat are unaccounted for.

Brand auf Fähre in der Adria Norman Atlantic 29.12.2014
The ferry caught fire early Sunday morning.Image: Skai TV/AFP/Getty Images

Passengers described how the boat became engulfed by thick smoke, and described the rescue mission as chaotic. "We did not know what to do. The staff had no idea how to get people off the boat," one told news agency AFP.

"The lifeboats did not work, there was only one of them in the water and none of the crew were there to help people."

The Italian-owned ship, leased to Greek operator ANEK ferries, started drifting because the fire shut down its steering system. A criminal investigation has opened in the Italian city of Bari, with prosecutors seeking to establish whether negligence was involved.

jr/ksb (dpa, AFP, AP)