Thursday 21 November 2019

Heat and smoke delay ferry search

Smoke billows from the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic ferry in the port of Brindisi in southern Italy (AP)
Smoke billows from the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic ferry in the port of Brindisi in southern Italy (AP)

Fierce heat from a slow-burning blaze kept firefighters and other investigators from searching the hold and vehicle decks of a Greek ferry for more bodies for a second day.

At least 11 people perished in the pre-dawn blaze on December 28 aboard the Norman Atlantic, on a voyage between Greece and Italy. Authorities fear more bodies might be inside the vehicle deck where the fire began.

The ferry was towed into the Italian port of Brindisi on Friday morning and port captain Mario Valente said temperatures were "very high" inside the deck, with smoke still pouring from the wreck.

Bari prosecutor Ettore Cardinali later said no bodies were found during a search of some of the passenger cabins and some deck areas.

"There is still the danger of fire. Therefore, we still enter very carefully, little by little. It is still an initial search," he said.

Brindisi Port Authority president Hercules Haralambides said it was not clear when the vehicle deck could be searched. "We can only hope that we are not confronted with a real tragedy" of more bodies, he said.

Four Greek brothers waited at the dockside for news of a missing cousin, a truck driver.

Tsakoumis Ioannis said an uncle was located at a hospital, where he was being treated for burns on his head and arms. Their cousin, Sofos Ioannis, is missing.

"What expectation can we have?" Mr Ioannis said, adding in frustration that the family had not heard anything.

Capt Valente said port authorities would help the family as best they could. "We hope their questions will soon find answers," he added.

Some survivors have raised the possibility that lorry drivers slept in their vehicles.

Greece indicated on Friday that as many as 19 people were still unaccounted for, while the Italian prosecutor leading the investigation of the fire said a few days earlier the figure could be even higher.

In addition to known missing, it is possible migrants might have come on board secretly when the ferry left Greek ports, possibly hidden in some of the many trucks transported by the ferry.

The cause of the blaze was still unknown. Investigators also want to know if any safety rules were broken, including during the evacuation.

PA Media

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