Corfu: A large ferry travelling from the port of Igoumenitsa in Greece caught fire off the coast of Corfu, promoting officials to launch an emergency rescue operation of the passengers on board, 12 of whom are still missing.
280 people, including children, have been rescued and are now housed in Corfu while officials continue the search for those missing. The fire was first reported on board the Euroferry Olympia at 4 AM in the morning which meant many passengers were forced to abandon their possessions and valuable cargo aboard the ferry.
Many of the ship's passengers were truck owners or drivers transporting goods, from plastic cups to carpets, between Greece and Italy or other European countries. The nine-hour voyage from Igoumenitsa in Western Greece to the Italian port of Brindisi was part of their weekly routine.
The blaze on the Euroferry Olympia prevented rescuers from boarding on Saturday morning, but a helicopter, a frigate, a fire-fighting vessel and six tug boats were operating in the area more than 50 kilometres from Corfu. Patrol boats are still in the area looking for the missing truck drivers.
The 12 drivers have been identified as seven from Bulgaria, three from Greece, one from Turkey and one from Lithuania.
Shipping minister Giannis Plakiotakis said a team from the Maritime Accident and Incident Investigation Service was in the area to launch an investigation. ERT reported the vessel's captain and two engineers had on Saturday been brought before a prosecutor.
Plakiotakis added in an interview with Skai television that after the fire is extinguished the ferry was expected to be towed to safety in order to pump out fuel and water and avoid marine pollution.
In addition to this, Greek media have reported of complaints that had surfaced in earlier years regarding the ferry, as Syndicate of Greek Professional Truck Drivers had reported in 2017 that the Olympia was known for carrying excess numbers of passengers and had poor facilities.
Two of those rescued from the ship were not on the ship's roster, Greek officials said. They were both Afghans.
"We were waiting for four hours before the rescue came, we were in the fire, in the night, we felt only the fire underneath our feet," Fahri Ozgen, a rescued passenger, told AFP.
"250 people were screaming, shouting, some of them were jumping into the sea. Some of our friends are still missing, we don't know where they are."