Rome, Dec 30 (IANS/EFE) At least eight people died aboard the Italian car ferry Norman Atlantic after it caught fire this weekend off the coast of Albania, the Italian government said Monday, but it could not confirm if dozens more may still be missing.
“We managed to save 427 people and two dogs,” said Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti, but declined to comment on press reports that a total of 478 passengers and crew may have been aboard the vessel — or may not, having made reservations and not shown up.
Search operations in the zone were continuing in terrible weather conditions after helicopter rescue teams worked through the night in pelting rain, cold and rough seas airlifting passengers from the ferry.
The stricken vessel had left the Greek port of Patras en route to Ancona in Italy with 268 people listed on its roster as being of Greek nationality and 22 Italians. The rest were mostly Turkish, German and French.
The fire broke out for reasons still unclear Sunday morning, presumably in the hold, which contained 222 vehicles.
Rescued passengers and others speaking via mobile phone told Greek media outlets there was chaos aboard the vessel after the fire broke out.
“There was a lot of smoke and they told us to go outside. Later, they launched a lifeboat and we got into it. The sea was very rough, but we managed to reach a ship that lifted us up with nets,” one passenger told the SKAI radio network.
The ferry was carrying “mainy elderly people and children”, passenger Rania Fyreu said, speaking from the ship. “We are huddling together to avoid the cold,” Fyreu told the MEGA television network.