Hundreds await nighttime rescue after Italian ferry catches fire

Dec

29

2014

Rescuers battled in the dark Sunday to save nearly 300 passengers trapped on a burning Italian ferry as coastguards reported the first death in the high-seas drama.

By late evening Italian Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi said the flames were under control while the Italian navy said 190 people of the 478 on board had been evacuated.

“It’s going to be a long night,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Twitter.

Throughout the day, strong winds and choppy waters hampered efforts by teams from Greece, Italy and Albania to retrieve more passengers from the “Norman Atlantic”.

The blaze, which sent huge clouds of smoke into the air, was said to have started on the ferry’s car deck in the early hours when the vessel was some 44 nautical miles northwest of the Greek island of Corfu.

A Greek passenger who had fallen from an escape chute into the Adriatic Sea with his wife was found dead by Italian coastguards, despite repeated attempts at an air rescue amid six-metre (19.6-foot) waves.

His wife was safely plucked from the water and transferred to the Italian port of Brindisi.

In desperate scenes earlier in the day, terrified passengers pleaded by mobile phone live on TV to be saved from the vessel which was travelling from the Greek port of Patras to Ancona in Italy.

“I cannot breathe, we are all going to burn like rats — God save us,” cried one of the ship’s cooks in a call to his wife, she told journalists.

Alongside rescue efforts by a flotilla of ships, including nearby merchant vessels, helicopters were winching passengers two by two from the bridge to an Italian ship.

In: News Asked By: [475 Blue Star Level]

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