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Italian ferry accident: One dead, 150 people rescued

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Italian ferry accident: One dead, 150 people rescued
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Athens: One person died, while over 150 people were rescued from an Italian-flagged ferry carrying 478 people that Sunday caught fire off the Greek island of Corfu, Greek official sources said.

The ferry Norman Atlantic had sent a distress signal while sailing in international waters in the Adriatic Sea, when the crew realised that they could not put out the fire that had started in one of the ship's garages, the Greek Coast Guard said.

A person died after the fire in the ferry, Greek Coast Guard spokesman Nikos Lagadianos said, according to a Xinhua report.

A total of 478 people, including 422 passengers and 56 crew members, were onboard the ferry when fire broke out at one of the ship's garages before spreading to other parts, according to the Greek Coast Guard and a statement released by the Greek shipping firm ANEK Lines, which had leased it from an Italian company.

The ferry had departed from the port of Patras at the Peloponnese peninsula in Greece and was en route to Ancona in Italy via the port of Igoumenitsa in western Greece.

Hours after the ship sent out a distress signal, dozens of passengers were airlifted to safety by helicopters from Greece and Italy as well as in life boats, Lagadianos said.

According to Greek Coast Guard sources, officials were examining the prospect of towing the ferry towards Albania as over the past few hours, it was drifting towards the Albanian shores south of the Strait of Otranto.

Authorities at Corfu, Patras and other cities in western Greece were put in a state of readiness to offer first aid and shelter to the stricken passengers.

"We just hope that this nightmare will end soon," Corfu Deputy Governor Nikoletta Pandi told the media.

Fotis Tsantakides, one of the first Greek passengers transferred to the cruise ship Europa, told Greek television channel Mega that the fire seemed to be spreading from three different fronts and there were problems in the distribution of life jackets.

Greece's SKAI television channel, citing a document issued Dec 19 by the port authority of Patras reported that shortages in safety measures were noted.

Greek journalist Angelos Moschovas, who happened to be among the passengers of the Europa, which received some of the first evacuees, described children in a state of shock, and who were worrying about their parents who were left behind.

"We are outside in the freezing cold, some of the people are coughing due to the heavy smoke," Greek passenger Yorgos Styliaras told his relatives during a short telephonic conversation.

The majority of people onboard -- 234 passengers and 34 crew members -- were Greek nationals, according to the Greek shipping ministry.

There was no official information about the nationalities of the other passengers onboard, except that the captain and the rest of the crew members were Italians.

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