After deadly blaze, burnt-out ferry towed to Italy

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 02, 2015 5:38 AM

By Gabriele Pileri

BRINDISI, Italy (Reuters) - Tug boats hauled the burnt-out hulk of the ferry that caught fire on Sunday off the coast of Greece to a southern Italian port on Friday, opening the way for an investigation into the cause of the blaze that killed at least 11 people.

Listing visibly to starboard, the Norman Atlantic multi-deck car-and-truck ferry was held outside the port of Brindisi as officials decided where it should be moored.

The fire broke out on one of the lower garage levels and left the vessel drifting without power in stormy seas. It took Greek and Italian rescue teams 36 hours to evacuate 477 passengers and crew from the ship amid strong winds.

Most were winched into helicopters from the upper deck of the ship as the blaze raged below, but dozens may still be missing, including migrants not listed on the ship's manifest, Italian officials have said.

"Given that the ship was indisputably carrying illegal migrants who were probably hidden in the hold, we fear that we'll find more dead people once we recover the wreck," Giuseppe Volpe, the Italian prosecutor leading the investigation into the cause of the fire, said earlier this week.

Reports of the number of missing have varied widely. The Greek coastguard said on Thursday that 18 are still unaccounted for, while Volpe has said the number may be as high as 98.

In his end-year address, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi praised the rescue effort for having prevented far more deaths and complimented the ship's captain, Argilio Giacomazzi, for staying aboard the ship until it was evacuated.

But rescued passengers have criticized the ship's crew for mishandling the emergency and not sounding the fire alarm.

"We tried to do everything possible," Giacomazzi told television reporters outside his home on Thursday. "I wanted to bring them all home," he said of the dead and missing.

Italian and Albanian magistrates agreed to impound the ship so the cause of the fire could be investigated.

The Italian-flagged ferry was chartered by Greek ferry operator Anek Lines and was sailing from Patras in western Greece to Ancona in Italy.

(Additional reporting George Georgiopoulos in Athens and Steve Scherer, writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Larry King)