Italian prosecutors yesterday ordered the crippled Greek ferry the Norman Atlantic back to Italy as part of a criminal investigation, saying that they feared more bodies will be found aboard the vessel when it is properly searched.
The news came as it emerged that two Albanian seamen were yesterday killed on a tugboat while towing the fire-stricken Norman Atlantic.
The men died after being hit by a connecting cable between the vessels, Albanian officials say.
“One man died on the spot when one cable broke after it got stuck in the propeller,” an Albanian port authority official said. “The other died when being assisted by a helicopter medical team.”
At least ten other people were killed and more than 400 were rescued, after fire broke out on the ferry in stormy seas.
It is unclear how many passengers are still missing.
Rescue helicopters have been diverted after another ship sent a distress signal nearby.
A cargo ship carrying several hundred people near the Greek island of Corfu appealed for help late on Tuesday morning, according to Greek media.
More than 400 people have been rescued from the Norman Atlantic, most in helicopter sorties which persisted despite high winds and seas, after a fire broke out before dawn on Sunday on a car deck. The operator said 478 people had been on the ferry when it left the Greek port of Patras for Ancona in Italy, but Italy’s final tally following the rescue comes to only 437, including those known to have died.
Both Italian and Greek authorities have announced criminal investigations into the cause of the blaze.
Italian prosecutors have secured jurisdiction over the case from Albanian judicial authorities, citing the ship’s Italian owner and Italian captain.
Bari prosecutor Giuseppe Volpe, who ordered the ferry back to the Italian port of Brindisi, said it was likely that other bodies will be found in the cargo areas of the ferry once searched, given that there was “incontrovertible” evidence that migrants were stowed away on board.
Two Afghans and a Syrian were among the 49 who disembarked in Bari, one of whom had already asked for political asylum, he said. “Our fear is that, unfortunately, once the wreck is recovered, we’ll find other dead people on board,” he said.
The search for possible missing people continued in the seas off Albania amid ongoing confusion over how many passengers were on board.
An Italian ship with about 180 survivors on board remained in the vicinity assisting in the search, the Italian Navy said.
Salvage companies were working to secure tow lines to begin moving the ferry, but were hampered by high winds and seas.
Italian judicial authorities have enlisted the Italian tug company, Barretta, to take charge of bringing the Norman Atlantic ferry to Brindisi.
No timeframe was given, but Barretta said the vessel could arrive at Brindisi within a day.
Besides Barretta, the ship owner’s insurance company, has contracted the Dutch salvage firm Titan to secure the wreck.