Rescuers Search for Missing From Stricken Italian Ferry

Ten people died and several people may be missing as rescue teams continue to search for bodies following the evacuation of 427 people in rough seas and high winds from an Italian ferry that caught fire en route from Greece to Italy.

The presence of three stowaways, overbookings and evacuated passengers make it difficult to give a number of missing people at this time, Giuseppe Volpe, prosecutor for the Italian city of Bari, said in a press conference today broadcast on Sky TG24. Greek weekly newspaper To Vima reported yesterday that 38 people may be missing.

Volpe said the latest tally shows 499 people were on board the Norman Atlantic ferry although once the ship is towed to safety he said some dead stowaways may be found in the hold.

An Italian-led operation evacuated passengers and put out the fire that broke out Dec. 28 at 4:00 a.m. local time in the car-parking area of the ferry that departed from the Greek port of Patras en route to Ancona, Italy. Rescue teams faced dense smoke, rough seas and high flames fanned by winds of over 40 knots (46 miles per hour) that caused concern the ship might topple over, naval authorities said at a press conference in Rome yesterday.

The rough weather prevented other vessels from approaching the ship forcing rescue crews to evacuate people one by one in an operation that lasted over 34 hours. The Italian Navy posted pictures on its Twitter page showing helicopters taking off for rescue missions and the smoking ferry listing in high seas.

Ferry Captain

The ferry boat’s captain was the last to leave the ship, the Italian Coast Guard said in a Twitter post. Italian media pointed out the stark contrast between his behavior and that of Francesco Schettino, captain of cruise ship Costa Concordia, who abandoned ship before all passengers were safe after his vessel rammed into rocks and partially sank off the Tuscan coast on Jan 13, 2012.

The next step will be to tow the ferry to safety, a difficult task due to high seas and strong winds that can break the cables used to tug the vessel, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said yesterday during a press conference in Rome. Maritime salvage operator Boskalis Westminster NV said it has sent 15 employees and 12 tons of material and pumps on location.

The Italian Transport Ministry said in a statement it has legally seized the vessel pending an investigation into the causes of the fire.

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