Two Trapped, Scores Rescued After Flames Engulf Greece-Italy Ferry
Two people are trapped on a ferry that was engulfed in a blaze as it sailed from Greece to Italy early on Friday, the coastguard said, after scores of others passengers and crew members were rescued.
A total of 239 passengers and 51 crew were onboard the Italian-flagged Euroferry Olympia when the fire broke out and rescue vessels had taken most of them to the island of Corfu where ambulances were waiting, the Greek coastguard added.
"We were woken up around 4:20 a.m. Within an hour we had left the ship ... We were saved by the crew, which acted fast," a Greek passenger told Skai TV via telephone.
The cause of the fire was still being investigated, Greek authorities said. There were no immediate reports of deaths or severe injuries. One person with breathing problems had been taken to hospital, local health authorities said.
Passengers huddled in yellow blankets on an Italian rescue vessel as huge plumes of smoke poured out of the ferry, one video showed. The words "May Day" were repeatedly blasting from speakers on the ferry, in more footage uploaded on Greek news website Proto Thema.
A helicopter was waiting to airlift two passengers still trapped in the ship's garage, the coastguard said.
Greek media reported that at least 10 people were feared missing. Authorities could not confirm the information, saying the operation was ongoing.
The 183-metre (600-foot)ferry sailed from Igoumenitsa, the largest port in western Greece, and was headed to the Italian port of Brindisi, about nine hours away. It carried 153 vehicles, many trucks among them, Grimaldi Lines, the owner of the vessel, said.
The fire broke out when the ship was near Corfu in the Ionian Sea. Hours after the alarm was raised, the vessel was still ablaze, drifting in Albanian waters, Grimaldi Lines said.
The ferry has a capacity of up to 560 passengers, according to the company's website.
Grimaldi Lines spokesman Paul Kyprianou told Reuters that there were indications the fire started in one of its holds. The company was making every effort to help bring the passengers - most of them from Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey - home, he added.
At least four Greek coastguard vessels, four aircraft and the Italian financial police patrol boat Monte Sperone were involved in the rescue operation.
"The flames were incredibly high, we were a few miles away from the ferry when it happened," Colonello Felice Lodovico Simone Cicchetti from Italy's financial police, who took part in the operation, said.
"The fire was so big and fast that in a matter of five minutes it became unmanageable for the people aboard."
In 2014, 10 people were killed when the car ferry Norman Atlantic carrying 466 passengers and crew caught fire while sailing from Greece to Italy.
(Reuters - Additional reporting by Karolina Tagaris, Renee Maltezou, Lefteris Papadimas, Giulia Segreti and Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Sam Holmes, Lincoln Feast, Alex Richardson, Alison Williams and Andrew Heavens)