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160 still trapped on Greek ferry as 49 reach land

29 December 2014, 13:26

Bari - A cargo ship with 49 people evacuated from a Greek ferry that caught fire in the Adriatic Sea arrived in the Italian port of Bari on Monday, the first big group to reach land.

More than 160 people remained trapped on the smoke-filled vessel adrift in rough seas between Italy and Albania.

One person was killed in the risky rescue operation and two others were injured as Italian and Greek rescue ships and helicopters plucked passengers off the stricken vessel and brought them to safety aboard the 10 or so mercantile ships nearby.

Those evacuees were to be brought to shore later after the rescue was completed, Greek officials said.

One of the cargo ships, the Spirit of Piraeus, docked in Bari just after 07:30 on Monday with 49 survivors aboard. The first to disembark was an injured man wrapped in a yellow striped blanket and wearing bandages around his bare feet, helped down the ship's ladder by two rescue workers.

Other evacuees, many wrapped in blankets, made their way slowly down the ladder with assistance, some thrusting their hands in a victory sign as they waited their turn. Among them were four children. TV crews and relatives gathered on the docks below in near silence.

The evacuees then boarded bright red fire department buses. Officials have said hotels have been booked for them around town.

The ship came ashore in Bari after first trying to dock overnight down the coast in Brindisi. Rough seas forced a change in plans.

Struggling to breathe

The fire broke out before dawn Sunday on a car deck of the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic, carrying 422 passengers and 56 crew members. All day and night, passengers huddled on the vessel's upper decks, pelted by rain and hail and struggling to breathe through the thick smoke.

By early Monday, 316 people had been evacuated, leaving 161 more on board, Greek Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said.

Helicopters rescued passengers throughout the night, completing 34 sorties with winds over 75km/h.

"Notwithstanding the weather and the darkness, which is another factor, we persisted throughout the entire night," Italian coast guard Admiral Giovanni Pettorino told Sky TG24.

Those remaining on board were given thermal blankets and found places to wait protected from the elements "even if the conditions remain very difficult," Pettorino said.

- AP


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