Sunday, 4 January 2015

Norman Atlantic ferry: Fire hampers search for victims

January 4, 2015.

Fierce heat from slow-burning blazes is still keeping rescue crews and investigators from searching the hold and vehicle decks of the Norman Atlantic ferry.

Parts of the vessel are still burning nearly a week after it caught fire while sailing from Greece to Italy. Investigators recovered a "black box" recorder after the ferry arrived in the Italian port of Brindisi on Friday. It is not clear what caused the blaze, which killed at least 11 people.

Up to 19 are said to still be missing. It took rescuers more than two days to extract 477 survivors from the burning ferry, mostly by helicopter. The Italian prosecutor leading the investigation into the cause of the fire, Giuseppe Volpe, has said he fears that the bodies of would-be illegal migrants could be found in the hold.


Port Captain Mario Valente said on Saturday that temperatures were still "very high" inside the car deck. Smoke still poured from the smouldering vessel. "There is a continuing slow combustion, but a bit less than yesterday," Reuters quoted Capt Valente as saying. "It will be a few days before all the fire outbreaks are completely extinguished." He said investigators needed "a bit more time" before they could get down into the hold. The Norman Atlantic was listing visibly as it was tugged into Brindisi's port on Friday. Fire officials said cars and trucks were still slowly burning inside.

Greek authorities have said that up to 19 people are missing. Mr Volpe said on Friday that about 10 to 15 people were unaccounted for, having earlier said dozens might be missing. The captain, owner and operator of the ship as well as three crew members are reported to have been placed under investigation by an Italian court. Earlier in the week, two Albanian seamen were killed on a tugboat towing the ferry after they were struck by a connecting cable.

The ferry was sailing from Patras in Greece to the Italian city of Ancona when it caught fire on Sunday. Passengers described being trapped between the the burning heat of the fire below deck and freezing rain and huge waves. Survivors said people had fought for spaces in lifeboats and helicopter baskets, and complained that the crew seemed overwhelmed by events.



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