28 December 2014
Last updated at 18:53
Ships and helicopters are taking part in a major rescue operation after an Italian ferry carrying 478 people caught fire north-west of Corfu.
One person has died after jumping from the ship and another has been confirmed injured, officials say.
A total of 165 people have been rescued but more than 300 remain on the Norman Atlantic which was travelling from Patras in Greece to Ancona in Italy.
Choppy seas and strong winds are hampering the rescue.
Most of those on board were Greek. Others came from Italy, Turkey, Albania, Germany and many other countries, officials said.
The British ambassador to Greece said officials were investigating reports that two Britons were on board.
Italian media say the fire broke out on the ferry’s car deck before spreading.
Two Italian and two Greek helicopters are taking turns to winch passengers from the ship, two at a time, Greek officials say.
“This is a complicated rescue mission… The visibility is poor and the weather conditions are difficult, but we are confident because there are a good number of ships in the area,” Greece Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said.
Nearby merchant vessels aligned themselves in formation to protect the ship from waves and facilitate the rescue.
Helicopters are trying to airlift passengers in pairs but are being hampered by bad weather
Some passengers took to life rafts to escape the burning ship
Passengers have made desperate calls for a speedy rescue
Italian and Albanian teams are also taking part in the rescue operation – some 19 nautical miles from the Albanian coast.
One of the passengers told Greek TV station Mega: “On the lower deck, where the lifeboats are, our shoes were starting to melt from the heat.”
Another passenger told the same station that smoke was engulfing the ship.
“We are outside, we are very cold, the ship is full of smoke, the boat is still burning, the floors are boiling, underneath the cabins it must be burning since 5 o’clock, the boats that came (to rescue us) are gone, and we are here. They cannot take us,” they said.
The wife of one of the cooks told journalists she had had a call from her husband saying: “I cannot breathe, we are all going to burn like rats – God save us.”
Another passenger said some of those on board were suffering from hypothermia, including young children.
“It’s pitch black. It’s freezing”, they told a friend by telephone.
Ferries are an important mode of transport between Greece’s hundreds of islands as well as neighbouring countries.
The Norman Atlantic is one of many ferries which ply the Greece-Italy route
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