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250 passengers still on board: Italian ferry caught fire off western coast of Greece

250 passengers still on board: Italian ferry caught fire off western coast of Greece

ATHENS: A rescue operation continues more than 250 passengers are still on board an Italian ferry that caught fire off the western coast of Greece. More than 200 of the 478 passengers on board have been rescued on Monday morning. The Norman Atlantic was travelling from Patras in Greece to Ancona in Italy.

One person has died after jumping from the ship and another has been confirmed injured. The fire, which Italian media said broke out on the ferry’s car deck before spreading, is still only partly under control.

Greek officials said two Italian and two Greek helicopters are taking turns to winch passengers from the ship, two at a time, but strong winds and choppy seas are hampering the rescue.

Around 55 others were successfully transferred to a rescue ship, and 150 were in a lifeboat. At least seven merchant ships were next to the Norman Atlantic to take passengers on board, and were also being used to form a barrier against the high winds.

Greek authorities said they had sent five helicopters and a military transport plane to the area.

Some passengers had reportedly been stranded on an upper deck for more than six hours, unable to be lowered to lifeboats because of the high seas.

Sofoklis Styliaras, a Greek, told Mega television: “The fire is still burning. On the lower deck, where the lifeboats are, our shoes were starting to melt from the heat.

“There’s nowhere else for us to go. It’s impossible to walk on the lower deck because of the heat.”

Another passenger told Greek TV: “They tried to lower some boats, but not all of us could get in.

“We are on the bridge. We can see a boat approaching … We opened some boxes and got some life vests. We are trying to save ourselves.”

Another, quoted by the Daily Mail, said: “We urgently need help. We cannot leave the ship. There are boats but we are trapped.”

The fire was said to have broken out in the ferry’s parking bay, which can hold 200 vehicles.

Mega said tankers holding olive oil were in the parking bay.

The authorities said no passengers had been reported injured, and the ship was not in immediate danger of sinking.

Greek Defence Minister Nikos Dendias said Italian authorities had responded to Athens’ plea for help and had taken charge of the rescue.

The Norman Atlantic had left the Greek port of Patras at 5.30am local time, bound for Ancona in Italy.