Athens | More than 200 freezing passengers and crew remained trapped on a burning ferry and adrift in rough seas between Italy and Albania today after enduring a second night of smoke, frigid temperatures and gale-force winds awaiting evacuation after fire broke out. At least one person died and two were injured in the risky rescue operation. The Italian navy said 251 of the 478 people on the ferry, sailing from the Greek port of Patras to Ancona in Italy, had been evacuated by early Monday.
Most were airlifted by helicopter to other merchant vessels sailing nearby, though a few were flown to hospitals in southern Italy to be treated for hypothermia. Despite the smoke, the dark and the horrible conditions, rescue activities continued without stop throughout the night, Italian navy Capt. Riccardo Rizzotto said, adding that another large Italian navy ship with a helicopter landing pad was headed to the scene to help.
Greek Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said 10 merchant ships were in the area assisting rescue efforts, and that those which had already taken on dozens of passengers from the stricken ferry would remain in the area until the operation was over. Only then would it be determined where they would go, Varvitsiotis said. Nevertheless, officials in the Adriatic port of Bari were preparing for the first large group to arrive Monday some 49 people.
They were initially expected in Brindisi down the coast, but rough seas forced a change of plans, officials said. The fire broke out before dawn Sunday on a car deck of the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic, carrying 422 passengers and 56 crew members. Passengers huddled on the vessel’s upper decks, pelted by rain and hail and struggling to breathe through the thick smoke, passengers told Greek media by phone.
We are outside, we are very cold, the ship is full of smoke, passenger Giorgos Stiliaras told Greek Mega TV. He recalled people being awakened by the smell of burning plastic and that the heat from the fire felt like the floors were boiling. Dotty Channing-Williams, mother of ferry passenger Nick Channing-Williams, said she had managed to speak to her son before he and his Greek fiancee were airlifted to safety.
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