Helicopter rescue crews evacuated 427 people from the ferry which caught fire in the Adriatic Sea

December 30, 2014 4:07 pm
There were no fire alarms at first, no knocks on the door from the
crew, just thick, acrid smoke filling cabins and 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 on to the helicopter,” Greek truck driver
Christos Perlis said from one of the rescue vessels summoned after the
Italian-flagged ferry caught fire in the Adriatic Sea. “The jungle law
prevailed,” said another Greek passenger, Irene Varsioti. “There was no
queue or order. No respect was shown for children.”

Helicopter rescue crews evacuated 427 people from the ferry which caught fire in the Adriatic Sea.  Photo / AP
Helicopter rescue crews evacuated 427 people from the ferry which caught fire in the Adriatic Sea. Photo / AP

Italian and
Greek helicopter rescue crews yesterday evacuated the last of the known
survivors aboard the crippled, fire-blackened vessel, bringing the
number rescued to 427.

But the death toll climbed to at least 10, and rescuers
searched below deck and scoured the surrounding waters for more possible
victims amid serious discrepancies in the ship’s manifest and confusion
over how many people were aboard.
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. Italian navy Admiral Giovanni Pettorino said 80 of those
rescued were not on the list at all. “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
was under investigation.
Greek truck driver Afrosini Bezati said
she 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. “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 (75km/h) 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 as the
fire raged. 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.
Some passengers suffered hypothermia,
others mild carbon monoxide poisoning, but the first big group to reach
land – 49 people who came ashore in Bari – walked off their rescue ship
on their own, exhausted and draped in blankets.
Navy Admiral
Giuseppe De Giorgi hailed the Italian ferry captain, Argilio Giacomazzi,
for having stayed on board to see the evacuation through.
But
passengers said the mostly Italian crew left them 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 couldn’t
breathe from the smoke. Vartsioti said: “The entire crew was criminally
unacceptable. There was no alarm. We awoke on our own.”
British
show-jumper Nick Channing-Williams said he heard an alarm at 5 am, well
after the flames were underway. Passengers said eventually an order went
out for them to get their life vests and come to the upper decks.
He
added: “The fire was basically cooking everybody’s feet. … People
just panicked. When the flames are licking up the side of the boat and
there’s no sign of help … you do feel somewhat helpless.”

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