29 December 2014
Last updated at 05:29
Rescue operations are continuing through the night in challenging conditions
More than 250 people are still awaiting rescue from an Italian ferry that caught fire north-west of Corfu.
Rescue operations are continuing despite massive waves and strong winds. The Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, said it would be a “long night”.
The Italian navy says 221 of the 478 people on board had been evacuated by early on Monday.
One person died after jumping from the ship and another has been confirmed injured, officials say.
The blaze on board the Norman Atlantic, which was travelling from Patras in Greece to Ancona in Italy, reportedly started on the ferry’s car deck before spreading.
Passengers described panicking as the heat rose, then freezing as they stood on decks awaiting rescue.
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 told Greek TV station Mega: “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.”
Helicopters have been winching people to safety.
Most have been transferred to nearby ships, although some have been taken directly to hospital for treatment for hypothermia.
Rescuers have been using airlifts to get people to safety
Passengers have been waiting on the ferry’s upper decks to be rescued
Footage released by the Italian coast guard showed the ferry shrouded in smoke
Nearby merchant vessels aligned themselves in formation to protect the ship from waves and facilitate the rescue.
“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.
Mr Varvitsiotis later told reporters the fire had been brought partly under control.
“It will be a very difficult night, a night in which we hope we will be able to rescue all on board,” he said.
Most of those on board were Greek. Others came from Italy, Turkey, Albania, Germany and many other countries, officials said.
A passenger manifest said that two Britons were on board, but the BBC understands that there may have been as many as six.
This photo taken by a nearby ship shows other vessels trying to extinguish the fire
The fire is believed to have started in the ship’s car deck
Some passengers took to life rafts to escape the burning ship
Many of the passengers spent hours exposed to the cold and stormy elements
It is not yet clear what may have caused the fire.
The chief executive of the Visentini group that owns the vessel, Carlo Visentini, said the ferry had passed a recent technical inspection despite a “slight malfunction” in one of the fire doors, Italy’s Ansa news agency reports.
“The tests confirmed that the boat was in full working order,” he said, adding that the fire door had been repaired “to the satisfaction of the inspectors”.
Ferries are an important mode of transport between Greece’s hundreds of islands as well as neighbouring countries.
Are you, or is someone you know, affected by this story? Do you know any of the passengers on the ferry? You can email [email protected] with any information. Please leave a telephone number if you are willing to be contacted by a BBC journalist.
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