By Lefteris Papadimas and Angelo Amante
Twelve people are still missing after a blaze swept through a ferry sailing from Greece to Italy early on Friday, Greek authorities said on Saturday, as firefighters battled for a second day to control the fire.
Reuters live footage showed plumes of smoke pouring out of the Italian-flagged Euroferry Olympia as firefighters from a nearby vessel sprayed water onto the burning ferry in the Ionian Sea.
A total of 241 passengers and 51 crew were on board when the blaze broke out early on Friday and rescue vessels moved most of the 280 people who were rescued to the nearby island of Corfu.
The 183-metre (600-foot) ferry caught fire en route from Igoumenitsa, a port in Western Greece, to the Italian port of Brindisi, a nine-hour journey.
The missing passengers are from Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and Lithuania, the Greek coastguard said, and their relatives faced an agonising wait for news.
“I’m very worried, I don’t know what will happen,” Ilias Gerontidakis, the son of a missing Greek truck driver, told state television from Corfu.
Firefighters were trying to cool scorching temperatures on the ship before emergency crews boarded it to resume search operations, a fire brigade official said.
Aerial footage released by the Greek coastguard on Friday showed rows of burnt trucks on the blackened deck after flames swept through the ship, owned by Grimaldi Lines. The ferry was carrying 153 vehicles, the company said.
Late on Friday, Greek crews rescued two people, a Bulgarian and an Afghan citizen, who was not on the official list of missing people.
Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry said 127 Bulgarians were on board.
Most of those rescued were taken to hotels on Corfu, where some recounted their ordeal.
“I have been coming and going for so many years, I have never experienced such a situation before,” Greek truck driver, Giorgos Parlatzas, 50, who was evacuated from the ship, said from a Corfu hotel.
Consular staff from the passengers’ home countries were in Corfu to help coordinate their safe return with the ferry company, a Reuters witness said.
A prosecutor has ordered an inquiry into the incident, a Greek coastguard official said, adding that the captain and two engineers of the ship had been briefly detained to testify and were later released.
The cause of the blaze is being investigated and authorities will have more evidence once the ship is tugged to a safe place, Shipping Minister Giannis Plakiotakis told Skai television.