12 missing off Greece as ferry fire burns on
Stay tuned with 24 News HD Android App
At least 12 truck drivers remained missing on Saturday from an Italian-flagged ferry still ablaze on the Ionian Sea off Corfu, Greece's coastguard said.
Patrol ships were combing the area off the holiday island hoping to locate survivors.
The blaze on the Euroferry Olympia prevented rescuers from boarding on Saturday morning, but a helicopter, a frigate, a fire-fighting vessel and six tug boats were operating in the area more than 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Corfu.
According to ERT television, the wind had rekindled the fire by Saturday noon.
A thick cloud of black smoke was billowing into sky and the heat on board had reached 500 degrees Celsius.
On Friday, 280 passengers were evacuated to Corfu after the blaze on the Olympia broke out en route from Greece to Italy.
The cause of the fire remains unknown.
Shipping minister Giannis Plakiotakis said a team from the Maritime Accident and Incident Investigation Service was in the area to launch an investigation.
ERT reported the vessel's captain and two engineers had on Saturday been brought before a prosecutor.
Plakiotakis added in an interview with Skai television that after the fire is extinguished the ferry was expected to be towed to safety in order to pump out fuel and water and avoid marine pollution.
The coastguard said all of the missing are truck drivers -- seven from Bulgaria, three from Greece, one from Turkey and one from Lithuania.
Truckers who were rescued from the vessel told Greece's public broadcaster some drivers preferred to sleep in their vehicles because the cabins were over-crowded.
According to the Kathimerini newspaper, since June 2017 the Syndicate of Greek Professional Truck Drivers had warned about the conditions on the Olympia as well Euroferry Egnazia, both belonging to Italy's Grimaldi group ferry and container operator.
In a letter to the Greek Marine Ministry they reported the air conditioning did not work in the cabins and there were not enough cabins for the number of passengers.
They had also complained that the ventilation in the garage did not work.
The 27-year-old ship's latest safety check was at Igoumenitsa on February 16, Grimaldi said.
According to the company, the ferry was officially carrying 239 passengers and 51 crew, as well as 153 trucks and trailers and 32 passenger vehicles.
But, raising concern for how many unofficial passengers could still be missing, the coastguard said two of the people rescued were not on the manifest.
Both were Afghans, the coastguard told AFP.
The Bulgarian foreign ministry said 127 of its nationals were on the passenger list, including 37 truck drivers.
Another 24 were from Turkey, the country's NTV station said, while ERT said 21 Greeks were aboard.
Among the rescued, nine people remained in hospital with breathing difficulties.
'Jumping in the sea'
"Two Bulgarians were hospitalised, one had very low saturation (levels) and was intubated,” deputy foreign minister Velislava Petrova told a briefing Saturday.
Families of the missing started arriving in Corfu on Saturday accompanied by a psychologist provided by the Greek shipping ministry.
Rescuers who boarded the burning vessel halted work Friday evening because of the intense heat, dense smoke and darkness, Athens News Agency said.
One was taken to hospital with respiratory problems but released on Saturday, the fire brigade told AFP.
"We were waiting for four hours before the rescue came, we were in the fire, in the night, we felt only the fire underneath our feet," Fahri Ozgen, a rescued passenger, told AFP.
"250 people were screaming, shouting, some of them were jumping into the sea. Some of our friends are still missing, we don't know where they are."
Some passengers lost everything in the fire.
"We lost our money, we lost our passports, we lost all our administrative documents, I don't even have a shoe to wear on my foot. We can't make any phone call I can't phone Turkey," said trucker Ali Duran.
The last shipboard fire in the Adriatic occurred in December 2014 on the Italian ferry Norman Atlantic. Thirteen people died in that blaze.