7 dead as passengers recount terror on ferry that caught fire

AP and AFP

AP and AFP–Italian Premier Matteo Renzi says that the evacuation of the Greek ferry that caught fire off Albania has been completed, and that only the vessel’s captain and four Italian sailors remain on board to assist in the operation.

The latest numbers indicate 414 people have been rescued from the ferry, and seven bodies removed. They include a Greek man who died after become trapped in a lifeboard cute, and some others whose bodies were recovered Monday. Their identities or the circumstances of their deaths were not immediately known. A 24-hour evacuation operation that proved to be extremely difficult was concluded shortly after midday with the Italian navy saying only a skeleton crew of nine men had been left on board to prepare for the boat being towed to port. One of the first passengers off in Bari told reporters he had thought he was going to die as parts of the boat became engulfed by thick smoke as the ferry was traveling from Greece from Italy. The evacuation was completed nearly 36 hours after a fire broke out on the car deck and left the huge vessel drifting dangerously in high seas off the coast of Albania. With a second navy boat at the scene and able to provide a landing deck for helicopters, the pace of the evacuation accelerated significantly on Monday. With the evacuation complete, questions began to be asked about how the fire started and why it was not contained. Bari prosecutor Giuseppe Volpe announced a criminal investigation that will seek to establish whether negligence contributed to the disaster. The Italian owner of the boat, Carlo Visentini, said he would cooperate fully. He insisted that the vessel, which was leased to Greek operator ANEK ferries, had passed a technical inspection which included its firedoors on Dec. 19. The body of the Greek passenger who died on Sunday was recovered after he and his wife, Teodora Douli, 56, ended up in the water while trying to reach a lifeboat. She was rescued alive and helicoptered to a hospital at Galatina on Italy’s southeastern heel. The Italian navy and coastguard worked through the night trying to get people off a boat that was being buffeted by powerful, bitingly cold winds and huge waves. A flotilla of merchant, coastguard and military ships from Greece, Italy and Albania were involved in the rescue efforts.