Ferry with 478 passengers catches fire in the Adriatic Sea
Passengers trapped on a ferry which is on fire during bad weather in the Adriatic Sea have been using mobile phones to plead for help.
Some called Greek TV stations in desperation as they huddled on the top decks of the Norman Atlantic while the ship was battered by gales.
Several hundred are thought to be exposed to a raging storm and billowing smoke, while a blaze burns and explosions are heard below.
Attempts to pluck them off in pairs by helicopter have proved difficult with two falling from an escape chute into the water where they were left struggling against the six metre waves.
A total of 478 passengers and crew were on board the ship when it caught fire just after 6am local time about 35 miles north of Corfu, close to the Albanian city of Vlora, while it was travelling from Patras, Greece, to Ancona in Italy.
About 115 passengers have been rescued with most being taken to ships nearby but dozens are thought to still be stranded at sea in life boats.
Greek and Albanian authorities, using planes and at least five helicopters, are taking part in the rescue operation which is being led by the Italians.
Sky News producer Anthee Carassava said that tug boats are being brought in to drag the stranded ship closer to the shore so the passengers can be safely taken off.
Dozens of cars and lorries are on the vessel’s vehicle deck, where the fire is believed to be alight, with several of the container lorries carrying olive oil.
A number of those who had been unable to get off the ferry, some coughing from the smoke, called news channels requesting help.
One passenger said: “They tried to lower some boats, but not all of us could get in. There is no coordination. It’s dark, the bottom of the vessel is on fire.
“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.”
One told the MEGA TV channel: “We could see fire everywhere. The flames were coming from the garage, cabins…”
Another, quoted by The Daily, appealed for help saying: “We urgently need help. We cannot leave the ship. There are boats but we are trapped.”
It is unclear how many casualties there have been but one man is known to have been airlifted to Italy suffering from hypothermia.
The British Ambassador in Greece said he was aware of the fire and the embassy is trying to establish if any Britons are on board.
Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, Greece’s Merchant Marine Minister, said several ships are in the area, the closest of which is the cruise ship Europa, which is leading the rescue operation.
He said: “We are doing everything we can to save those on board and no one, no one will be left helpless in this tough situation.”
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Twitter he is talking to his Greek counterpart Antonis Samaras about the rescue effort.
The ship is owned by the Italian company VISEMAR de Navigazione and chartered to Greek ferry firm ANEK Lines SA. It runs on a route which in the summer is popular with tourists heading to the southern Greek mainland.
Further north, a Turkish-registered merchant ship sank in the northern Adriatic Sea off the Italian port of Ravenna on Sunday following a collision with another vessel in rough seas. Reports said five crew members are unaccounted for.
Courtesy of Sky News