Confusion over blaze ferry numbers

Published: Tuesday 30th December 2014 by The News Editor

Comments (0)

Rescuers were scouring the waters around the crippled Greek ferry and searching below deck for more possible victims amid confusion over how many people were aboard.

The death toll climbed to at least 10, and Italian and Greek helicopter rescue crews evacuated the last of the known survivors aboard the fire-blackened vessel, bringing the number rescued to 427.

However there were serious discrepancies in the ship’s manifest, and officials warned there could still be people missing.

The vessel’s operator, Anek Lines, said 475 were on the ferry. But Italian officials said the names on the manifest may have represented just reservations, not actual passengers who boarded.

Also, Italian navy Admiral Giovanni Pettorino said 80 of those rescued were not on the list at all, giving credence to suggestions from the Italian premier that the ferry may have been carrying a number of immigrants illegally trying to reach Italy.

“We cannot say how many people may be missing,” transport minister Maurizio Lupi said.

The blaze broke out on the car deck of the Norman Atlantic while the ferry was travelling from the Greek port of Patras to Ancona in Italy. The cause of the fire was under investigation. Salvage crews went aboard to assess the damage.

The fire caused thick, acrid smoke to fill cabins, waking passengers on the overnight ferry from Greece to Italy.

In the chaos that followed, passengers said they received virtually no instructions from the crew.

The principle of women and children first went out the window, and passengers started pushing and shoving and came to blows over seats in the lifeboats and helicopter baskets.

“Everyone there was trampling on each other to get onto the helicopter,” Greek truck driver Christos Perlis said.

“The jungle law prevailed,” said another Greek passenger, Irene Varsioti. “There was no queue or order. No respect was shown for children.”

Greek truck driver Afrosini Bezati feared several of her colleagues had perished because they chose to sleep in their rigs where the fire broke out rather than take cabins upstairs.

“I considered doing the same thing, to leave my room after having a shower and going down to sleep in the truck,” she said as she arrived at Elefsina Air Force base near Athens aboard a military plane. “They were stuck and could not get out.”

The Italian military congratulated itself for a remarkable around-the-clock rescue operation in horrendous weather – 40 knot (46mph) winds, high seas, choking smoke and the dark of the Adriatic night.

Hundreds of passengers, crew members and two dogs were plucked from the decks in helicopter baskets as the fire raged below.

As they waited to be rescued, they were drenched by cold winter rain and firefighting hoses, while their feet burned from the flames below.

“I witnessed an image of hell as described by Dante, on a ship where the decks were melting and we were trying to find some place that was not burning to stand on,” said Greek passenger Chrysostomos Apostolou, a civil engineer who had been on holiday with his wife and sons, ages eight and 14.

Some passengers suffered hypothermia, others mild carbon monoxide poisoning, but the first big group to reach land – 49 people who came ashore in Bari just after dawn yesterday – walked off their rescue ship on their own, exhausted and draped in blankets to ward off the cold.

Navy Admiral Giuseppe De Giorgi hailed the Italian ferry captain, Argilio Giacomazzi, for having stayed on board to see the evacuation through, in striking contrast to the skipper in Italy’s last maritime disaster.

Captain Francesco Schettino is on trial on charges of manslaughter and leaving the ship early in the 2012 wreck of the Costa Concordia, in which 32 people were killed.

But passengers had no praise for the mostly Italian crew, complaining they were left to fend for themselves.

Several said that they knew to get out of their cabins only because other passengers banged on their doors or because they could not breathe from the smoke.

Ms Vartsioti, who had been on holiday with her husband and two children, ages 10 and 14, said: “The entire crew was criminally unacceptable. There was no alarm. We awoke on our own.”

Italy’s transport ministry sequestered the ferry, saying Italian and Albanian authorities would decide which port to bring it to amid duelling jurisdictions over any criminal or civil liability for the disaster.

Published: Tuesday 30th December 2014 by The News Editor

Comments (0)

Local business search