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Hundreds await rescue from stricken Italian ferry

December 29, 2014

Efforts are underway to rescue hundreds of people from a burning Italian ferry, with teams from three countries trying to retrieve passengers still aboard. Poor weather and darkness have so far hindered rescue attempts.

Brand auf Fähre in der Adria Norman Atlantic 28.12.2014
Image: Reuters/Marina Militare

Helicopter crews from Greece and Italy worked into Monday morning to retrieve passengers still stranded on the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic.

The Italian navy said 190 of the passengers had been evacuated from the stricken ship, although 300 people remained aboard late on Sunday. The fire was said to be under control by late evening.

Throughout the day, strong winds and choppy waters had hampered the efforts of teams from Greece, Italy and Albania to rescue more of the passengers.

A fire broke out in the lower deck garage of the ANEK Lines ferry 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.

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 their shoes had started to melt.

The Italian Coast Guard confirmed earlier Sunday that one person had died and another had been injured. It was unclear how the death occurred, but the Greek Coast Guard said the pair were found in a lifeboat rescue chute.

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.

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

rc/cmk (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)