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Dublin: 18 °C Friday 19 July, 2019
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'I watched my husband die...I tried to save him but I couldn't'

Rescuers battled through the night to help hundreds trapped on board the Norman Atlantic.

Paramedics wait for rescued passengers of the ferry that caught fire.
Paramedics wait for rescued passengers of the ferry that caught fire.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

Updated 8.00pm

THE DEATH TOLL after a ferry caught fire in rough seas in the Adriatic has risen to ten with dozens of passengers still unaccounted for.

It’s unclear whether the missing passengers have drowned or otherwise died unnoticed or whether the ill-fated Norman Atlantic’s manifest lists were inaccurate.

Italian Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi confirmed that a total of 427 people had been winched to safety by helicopter over the course of a 24-hour rescue operation carried out in the teeth of an unusually fierce winter storm.

With the ten confirmed dead, that left 41 people unaccounted for, going by the list of passengers and crew released by the ferry’s Greek operator on Sunday.

Lupi said it was unclear if the discrepancy was due to errors on the passenger list, no-shows at boarding or people getting off at a stopover on the Greek island of Igoumenitsa.

“It is up to the departure port to match up their list and the people (rescued),” Lupi said.

That is why we are continuing our (search) effort: we cannot know what the exact number was.

None of the statements made by survivors of the disaster have so far given any indication that as many as 40 passengers may have died.

But there was a worrying indication of possible more bad news when an empty lifeboat washed up on the shores of Albania.

Last man off 

More than 36 hours after he sent out a distress signal to alert coastguards he had lost control of his ship due to a fire, Captain Argilio Giacomazzi stepped off his vessel.

In keeping with centuries of maritime tradition, he was the last man off the stricken ship today.

Rescuers battled overnight and in the dark to save the hundreds of passengers trapped on the burning Italian ferry in the early hours of this morning.

Greece Ferry FireSource: AP/Press Association Images

The blaze was said to have started on the ferry’s car deck in the early hours when the vessel was some 44 nautical miles northwest of the Greek island of Corfu.

Source: Luigi Mistrulli

Today, survivors of the disaster described the terrifying ordeal and the panic on the ship triggered by the fire. One of the first passengers off in Bari told reporters he had thought he was going to die as parts of the boat became engulfed by thick smoke as the ferry was travelling from Greece from Italy.

“We did not know what to do. The staff had no idea how to get people off the boat,” he said.

“The lifeboats did not work, there was only one of them in the water and none of the crew were there to help people.”

Source: AP/Press Association Images

Teodora Douli, the wife of a Greek passenger who died on Sunday, described how she watched her husband die in front of her after they ended up in the water.

“We spent four hours in the water,” she said today.

I tried to save him but I couldn’t. We are dying, we’re dying, he told me.

“I watched my husband die,” she added in an interview with the Italian news agency ANSA at the hospital she was helicoptered to. “He was bleeding through his nose, perhaps because he banged his head on the side of the ship.”

Source: AP/Press Association Images

Rescue

By early 6am this morning, a total of 251 passengers out of the 478 on board had been rescued, according to the Italian navy, as teams from Greece, Italy and Albania battled through the night.

The “Spirit of Piraeus”, which helped with the evacuation, arrived ashore this morning with 49 survivors on board, including some 20 Greeks.

Athens said its army had sent a C-130 military transport plane to Lecce on Italy’s southeastern heel to pick up Greeks who had escaped the flames.

Source: AP/Press Association Images

Others were evacuated to hospitals near the city including a two-year-old Swiss boy, his four-year-old sister and their seven-months-pregnant mother, according to Italian media.

In desperate scenes earlier in the day, terrified passengers pleaded by mobile phone live on TV to be saved from the vessel, which was travelling from the Greek port of Patras to Ancona in Italy.

“I cannot breathe, we are all going to burn like rats — God save us,” cried one of the ship’s cooks in a call to his wife, she told journalists.

Greece Ferry Fire Athanasios Athanasopoulos chief of Greece's coast guard indicates the last known position of the stricken Italian flagged Norman Atlantic ferry. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Alongside rescue efforts by a flotilla of ships, including nearby merchant vessels, helicopters were slowly winching passengers to safety up to seven at a time.

Source: Associated Press/YouTube

Ferry passed checks 

The Greek maritime ministry said 268 of the passengers were Greek, with the crew made up of 22 Italians and 34 Greeks.

The rest of the passengers included 54 Turks, 44 Italians, 22 Albanians, 18 Germans as well as Swiss, French, Russian, Austrian, British and Dutch nationals.

The “Norman Atlantic” left Patras at 1530 GMT on Saturday and made a stop at the Greek coastal town of Igoumenitsa, before heading to Ancona when the fire took hold.

The car deck of the Italian-flagged ferry, built in 2009, was believed to have been holding 195 vehicles when the fire broke out.

It remains unclear how the fire started. Bari prosecutor Giuseppe Volpe announced a criminal investigation which will seek to establish whether negligence contributed to the disaster. The Italian owner of the boat, Carlo Visentini, said he would cooperate fully.

Visentini said the vessel underwent checks on December 19 in Patras and the minor flaws revealed had been addressed, including a problem with a fire door.

“This was immediately repaired to the satisfaction of the inspectors,” he said.

First published 7am © – AFP 2014

Read: One body recovered as hundreds still trapped aboard burning ferry>

Photos: The Norman Atlantic sailed from Rosslare six months before tragic fire>

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