Greek ferry fire: Series of failings found

In this image taken from a video released by the Italian Coast Guard, smoke billows from the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic. Picture: AP
In this image taken from a video released by the Italian Coast Guard, smoke billows from the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic. Picture: AP
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A SERIES of failings were found in the Norman Atlantic passenger ferry just days before the fire that killed at least ten people and led to hundreds being rescued.

The vessel, which was carrying 422 passengers and 56 crew, caught fire off the island of Corfu on Sunday.

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It has now emerged deficiencies were found in its fire safety measures and evacuation plans in the days immediately prior to the disaster.

Ten people were yesterday confirmed to have died after the ferry, which was travelling from the western Greek port of Patras to Ancona in Italy, caught fire in the Adriatic.

Four bodies were discovered in the water around the ferry, while a Greek man was found dead in a lifeboat chute.

Yesterday afternoon, Italian coastguards said two more bodies had been recovered from the vessel and later announced a further three had been foundd.

Last night, Italian authorities said they were checking to see if anyone else was still missing.

Italy’s transport minister, Maurizio Lupi, said it was premature to speculate on whether people were still missing, but suggested that there might have been people who reserved a spot on the ferry but did not board.

He said authorities were checking the manifest against the names of the 427 rescued. Among the survivors were people not listed on the manifest, indicating the possibility that some were travelling illegally.

All passengers were eventually evacuated from the stricken vessel yesterday.

Rescue helicopters braved high winds and treacherous seas to pluck hundreds of passengers to safety.

The blaze is believed to have broken out in the early hours of Sunday on a car deck. Six Britons were among those on board the ferry but none is thought to be among the dead.

It has emerged that an inspection carried out in Greece on 19 December found six deficiencies, according to Port State Control officials.

Concerns included malfunctioning fire doors and openings in fire-resisting divisions.

Plans for the search and rescue of passengers in the event of an emergency were not approved, while emergency systems, including lighting, batteries and switches, were missing.

Watertight doors were found to not meet guidelines, and problems were discovered with life-saving appliances.

However, none of the deficiencies was deemed to be of sufficient concern for the ship to be detained, the report said.

Among those saved was British showjumper Nick Channing-Williams, who was reunited with his Greek fiancée Regina Theoffili after they were rescued separately from the blazing vessel. A photograph sent to his family by a member of the Italian air force shows a grinning Mr Channing-Williams covered in black soot and oil after he spent more than a day trying to avoid acrid fumes.

He said he and other passengers had tried to tie a towrope from tugboats on to the front of the ferry but gave up after it repeatedly snapped.

He said there were moments he was “absolutely terrified”.

Speaking after being reunited with Ms Theoffili, he said: “That was quite an emotional reunion because we were separated for a few hours, which was not very nice, and in the early hours of this morning I was starting to question whether we were going to get off it or not.”

Mr Channing-Williams, 37, who was travelling to see his family in Berkshire for New Year, added: “When the flames are licking up around the boat and there is just no sign of help and they are talking about sending a boat that is going to be four hours away, you feel somewhat helpless…

“Around 5 o’clock this morning, I did send a couple of text messages out to people because I sort of had convinced myself that we were going a little bit the wrong way.”

Last night, Greece’s coastguard said the operation to collect survivors had been completed, and that a total of 432 people had been rescued.

Coastguard spokesman Nikos Lagadianos said those rescued included passengers and crew, and that the figures came from the Italian authorities in charge of the rescue operation.

He added that specialist Italian coastguard teams were continuing to search the interior of the ferry.

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