2 drivers trapped on burning ferry, scores rescued off Greek island

Costas Kantouris, Derek Gatopoulos and Colleen Barry
Associated Press

Athens, Greece — Scores of passengers and crew have been rescued from a fire that engulfed an Italy-bound ferry with 290 people on board near the Greek island of Corfu, authorities said Friday. Coast guard officials said two truck drivers were stranded on the burning vessel awaiting a helicopter rescue, adding that a full check of passenger and crew member lists was expected to take several hours.

The rescued passengers were being transported to Corfu, where one crew member and three passengers were hospitalized with breathing difficulties.

“This is a difficult operation and we must remain cautious. The final accounting of the people on board will take place on Corfu when everyone rescued is assembled there,” Greek Deputy Minister for Shipping Costas Katsafados told state-run ERT television.

A ferry is on fire at the Ionian Sea near the island of Corfu, Greece, on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. More than 280 people have been evacuated from the ferry in northwestern Greece that caught fire overnight, while heading to southern Italy, authorities said.

The predawn fire broke out in the Ionian Sea on the Italy-flagged Euroferry Olympia three hours after it left the port of Igoumenitsa in northwest Greece for the Italian port of Brindisi. Greek authorities said 239 passengers and 51 crew members on board, adding that the vessel was transporting more than 153 trucks and 32 cars.

The 183-meter (600-foot) ferry, built in 1995, is operated by the Grimaldi Group, based in Naples, Italy. It was traveling near the small Greek island of Ereikousa, 15 kilometers north of Corfu, when the fire started. Helicopter video released by the Greek coast guard showed thick smoke billowing from the vessel hours after the rescue started.

Greek truck driver Giorgos Parlantzas, one of the rescued passengers, recounted what took place on the Euroferry Olympia. “I was sleeping in my cabin when they came to alert us. I grabbed my ID and headed for the deck where people were being assembled. It must have been about 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. And we were put onto boats,” Parlantzas told the AP, speaking by telephone after arriving in Corfu.

Six boats from Greece’s coast guard and navy participated in the rescue effort along with four helicopters, an Italian customs inspection boat and several passing vessels, senior coast guard official Nikos Lagadianos said.

Rescued passengers, many wrapped in foil blankets, arrived in Corfu aboard the Italian inspection vessel and were being taken to an assembly area where paramedics were carrying out first aid checks, local officials said. Italy's customs agency said 243 people were rescued by its vessel.

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Kantouris reported from Thessaloniki, Greece and Barry from Milan, Italy