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Passenger found alive on ferry ablaze off Greece

20 February 2022   |   12:01 pm
A passenger was on Sunday found alive aboard a ferry that has been ablaze off Greece for three days, coastguards said, with reports suggesting several more missing people have survived.

Firefighting vessels work to estinguish a fire onboard the Italian-flagged ferry Euroferry Olympia, off the Greek Ionian island of Corfu on February 19, 2022. – Rescuers picked up the search for 12 missing people at the break of dawn on February 19, with the ship of Italian company Grimaldi still burning on the Ionian Sea off Corfu. The blaze on the Euroferry Olympia prevented rescuers from boarding in the morning of February 19, but a helicopter, a frigate, a fire-fighting vessel and six tug boats were operating in the area more than 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Corfu. (Photo by Voula Pappa/In time news / IN TIME NEWS / AFP)

A passenger was on Sunday found alive aboard a ferry that has been ablaze off Greece for three days, coastguards said, with reports suggesting several more missing people have survived.

Eleven truck drivers remained unaccounted for on Sunday before Skai television reported that an operation was underway “to rescue 4-5 more passengers who are alive”.

Rescuers had first spotted a 21-year-old man on the stern of the stricken vessel as it was being towed to port.

The ferry was 1.5 miles (about two kilometres) off the northern part of Corfu, the coastguard said.

The smiling Belarussian was taken to Corfu on a coastguard boat wearing flip flops and put in an ambulance heading to the hospital, television footage showed.

“I’m fine”, he told journalists.

“Tell me I’m alive,” the truck driver, had told rescuers, according to the Proto Thema news website.

Clad in tan shorts and a black t-shirt, he climbed down a ladder into a rescue boat, according to images from the iefimerida news website.

“I was in my cabin. I went to the lower deck. I heard voices. I did not see others,” the survivor told rescuers.

The news of the man’s “miraculous” survival, according to Greek media, had raised hopes further lives might be saved.

“There is optimism. Given the fact this man managed to get to the upper deck in these conditions,” coastguard spokesman Nikos Alexiou told Ert television.

According to the fire brigade, 40 firemen were deployed in the area on Sunday morning to help with rescue efforts.

“The thermal load and the toxicity on the vessel remain high. In some areas, fire is still burning. The operation is really delicate”, Shipping deputy minister, Costas Katsafados told Skai.

The blaze broke out on the Italian-flagged Euroferry Olympia late Thursday as it sailed from Igoumenitsa in Greece to Brindisi in Italy, with nearly 300 people aboard.

– ‘Corrosive goods‘ –
Criticism has mounted over conditions aboard the vessel, which was reported to be carrying fuel and “corrosive, dangerous goods”.

Rescuers had managed to save 280 passengers on Friday, evacuating them to Corfu, but 12 lorry drivers remained missing.

The man rescued on Sunday was one of those drivers, the coastguard said.

Authorities initially gave the missing as seven from Bulgaria, three from Greece, one from Turkey, and one from Lithuania.

On Sunday, they said there was an error and the missing Lithuanian was actually the man saved, who was from Belarus.

The drivers are believed to have been asleep inside their lorries when the blaze broke out.

Olympia was carrying an estimated 800 cubic metres of fuel and 23 tons of “corrosive dangerous goods”, according to Italy’s environment ministry which said on Saturday that a “possible spill” was detected after a fly-over by an Italian coastguard aircraft.

— ‘Miserable’ conditions
The vessel was officially carrying 239 passengers and 51 crew, as well as 153 trucks and trailers and 32 passenger vehicles, the Grimaldi company has said.

But the coastguard has said two of the 281 people rescued were Afghans not on the manifest, sparking fears that more undocumented passengers could also be missing.

The missing truckers reportedly slept in their vehicles because cabins on the vessel were overcrowded.

Ilias Gerontidakis, the son of a missing Greek trucker, told the Proto Thema online newspaper that Olympia was “miserable from every point of view”.

“It had bed bugs, it was dirty, it had no security systems,” he said as he waited at the port for news.

“It had 150 lorries inside. Normally it should have 70 to 75 cabins, but it only has 50. They force us to sleep four people in a cabin”, he said.

“My father, from what I was told, slept in the truck.”

The news of the rescue of the Belarussian rippled through relatives of those still missing who are waiting for news of loved ones in the port of Corfu in agony.

Ert showed emotional scenes of a woman being carried away after fainting.

The last shipboard fire in the Adriatic occurred in December 2014 on the Italian ferry Norman Atlantic. Thirteen people died in that blaze.