12/30/2014 06:27 am ET Updated Mar 01, 2015

Italy Warns Ferry Fire Death Toll Could Rise, 2 Albanian Seamen Killed In Rescue Operation


By Benet Koleka and Isla Binnie

TIRANA/ROME, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Two Albanian seamen were killed on Tuesday during the salvage of a multi-deck car ferry that caught fire off Greece's Adriatic Coast two days ago, killing at least 11 people, with dozens more missing.

The men were killed when a cable connecting their tugboat to the smoldering hulk of the Norman Atlantic snapped and hit them, an Albanian port authority official and Italy's navy said.

As salvage operations continued, there was confusion over the numbers on the ship, with dozens of names on the passenger manifest unaccounted for and no clarity over whether they had drowned or had not actually been aboard in the first place.

It was also unclear how many people, including illegal immigrants, may have boarded without being recorded. Italy and Greece have opened separate investigations into what caused the fire which broke out on a lower deck.

One more body was recovered on Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 11, the Italian navy said, while 427 people had been rescued, bringing the total well short of the 478 names recorded on the ship's manifest.


Italian and Greek helicopters and rescue vessels battled rough seas and high winds for 36 hours, winching scores of people off the deck as the blaze continued below.

Passengers saved from the wreck began arriving in Italy on Monday and the San Giorgio amphibious transport ship is due to bring more survivors to the port of Brindisi later on Tuesday.

Ute Kilger, a German survivor who arrived in Brindisi earlier on Tuesday, told Reuters: "I was lucky, I was saved after nearly 24 hours. This is a long time to fill with hope and with fear that you will die."

A public prosecutor in the Italian port city of Bari said on Tuesday 499 people had boarded the ferry and 179 were missing. It was not clear how this calculation had been made.

"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," the prosecutor, Giuseppe Volpe, said.

The two Albanian seamen killed on Tuesday were part of an eight-strong crew working overnight to tow the gutted ferry, which was chartered by Greek ferry operator Anek Lines.

Albania has agreed to let Bari prosecutors impound the Italian-flagged ship and investigate the cause of the fire, Volpe and the Albanian general prosecutor's office said.

(additional reporting by Roberto Mignucci and Carmelo Camilli in Brindisi, Angeliki Koutantou in Athens and Antonella Cinelli in Rome, writing by Isla Binnie; editing by Ralph Boulton)



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