Edmonton Journal

More than 200 still trapped aboard burning Adriatic ferry

- Demetris Nellas And Frances D’Emilio The Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece — More than 200 passengers and crew remained trapped on a burning ferry and adrift in rough seas between Italy and Albania early Monday 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 221 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.

“It will be a very difficult night. A night in which we hope we will be able to rescue all on board,” Greek Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiot­is said in Athens.

He said 10 merchant ships were assisting rescue efforts, and that those who had already taken on dozens of passengers would remain in the area until the operation was over.

Neverthele­ss, officials in the Adriatic port of Bari were preparing for the first large group to arrive early Monday — some 49 people. They were initially expected in Brindisi down the coast, but rough seas forced a change of plans.

The fire broke out before dawn Sunday on a car deck of the Italianfla­gged 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 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. In an interview with The Associated Press from her home in Newbury, Britain, she said she had complained to her son that there was no informatio­n available for families.

“He said ‘Well, it’s an awful lot worse for us because we’re actually standing out here in the pouring rain, and thunder and lightening, and we really just don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.’ ”

The president of the Brindisi Port Authority, Hercules Haralambid­es, said the passengers were still out on deck after midnight, but that blankets had been provided by rescue crews from the Brindisi-based St. George navy ship, which was leading the rescue.

Medical personnel had also boarded to check on passengers and crew, the navy said.

The ferry was last inspected by the Patras Port Authority on Dec. 19 and six “deficienci­es” were found, but none were so grave as to keep it in port, according to the report on the European Maritime Safety Agency’s website.

 ?? Italian Coast Guard/ The Associated Press ?? Stormy weather has hindered rescue operations as helicopter­s continue to hoist scores to safety.
Italian Coast Guard/ The Associated Press Stormy weather has hindered rescue operations as helicopter­s continue to hoist scores to safety.

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