Greece ferry fire: Passenger rescued alive but another found dead on ship near Corfu

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP
Smoke rises from the Italian-flagged Euroferry Olympia, which is on fire for third day, in the Ionian sea near the Greek island of Corfu, on Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022.
Smoke rises from the Italian-flagged Euroferry Olympia, which is on fire for third day, in the Ionian sea near the Greek island of Corfu, on Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

One of the passengers reported missing on the Italian ferry on fire off the Greek island of Corfu has been found alive and rescued, the coast guard said on Sunday.

The young man of 21 who said he comes from Belarus was located at the stern of the Euroferry Olympia in apparently good condition.

"Tell me I'm alive!" he shouted to rescuers, according to the newspaper Proto Thema.

Rescuers had previously detected his presence and were able to board the vessel to give him first aid and evacuate him via a ladder, the Greek authorities said.

But optimism that another 11 lorry drivers — eight of them said to be Bulgarian nationals — faded when the body of a man was found in a burnt-out truck. 

The Italian-owned ferry, which was carrying more than 290 passengers and crew, as well as 153 trucks and 32 cars, caught fire on Friday, three hours after it left the northwestern Greek port of Igoumenitsa, on the mainland, bound for Brindisi, Italy. There, survivors have been recounting their experiences.

The Greek coast guard and other boats evacuated about 280 people to the nearby island of Corfu. Two passengers rescued late on Saturday were not on the ship’s manifest and are thought to be migrants.

The ship was being slowly towed to the port of Kassiopi, in northeastern Corfu, by three tugboats, authorities said. Firefighters were still battling the blaze, which, although confined in certain spaces, reignites from time to time, and thick smoke is hanging over the ship.

The extreme temperatures in some parts of the ship impeded the rescuers — made up of the Greek fire service’s Disaster Management Unit and a team of rescuers from private operators — from searching the whole ship. The ferry was slightly listing from the tons of water poured into it, but authorities said it was not in danger of capsizing.

A Greek prosecutor on the island of Corfu has ordered an investigation into the cause of the fire. The Italy-based company that operates the ferry said the fire started in a hold where vehicles were parked.

The ship’s captain and two engineers were arrested on Friday, but were released the same day, authorities said.

Passengers described a dramatic rescue situation.

“We heard the alarm. We thought it was some kind of drill. But we saw through the portholes that people were running," truck driver Karaolanidis told the AP on Saturday. “You can’t think something at the time (other than) your family ... When I hit the deck, I saw smoke and children. Fortunately, they (the crew) acted quickly.”

Officials said the people rescued included citizens of Albania, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Italy, and Lithuania.