Le Pays De France - Two trapped, several feared missing in ferry fire off Greece

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Two trapped, several feared missing in ferry fire off Greece
Two trapped, several feared missing in ferry fire off Greece

Two trapped, several feared missing in ferry fire off Greece

Two people were trapped Friday on a burning Italian-flagged ferry sailing through the Ionian Sea and nearly a dozen sustained minor injuries as hundreds were rescued, Greek officials said amid fears of unaccounted-for passengers on board.

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A Bulgarian and a Turkish truck driver were trapped on the Euroferry Olympia, with a Super Puma helicopter sent to pick them up, the Greek coastguard said.

A coastguard source said 278 people had been rescued and taken to the island of Corfu. Ten of them were taken to hospital with breathing difficulties and minor injuries, public television ERT said.

A dozen people remained unaccounted for, according to owners Grimaldi Lines, on the vessel, which was officially carrying 239 passengers and 51 crew as well as 153 trucks and trailers and 32 passenger vehicles.

A migrant stowaway was rescued in addition to those on the ship's list, raising fears that more undocumented passengers could be on board.

Migrant stowaways frequently sneak onto ferries between Greece and Italy.

Grimaldi Lines said they were alerted at 4:12 am (0212 GMT) to the fire on the Euroferry Olympia, which was heading to Italy from the Greek port city of Igoumenitsa opposite Corfu.

Television images showed the ship enveloped in flames which sent plumes of black smoke into the sky.

"The ship is burning from end to end," Corfu rescuer Yiorgos Glikofridis told ERT from a vessel near the ferry.

"There is a tremendous amount of smoke and visibility is poor. We see no movement on the deck, only flames," he said.

A Greek coastguard spokeswoman said it would take several hours to extinguish the fire.

The Bulgarian foreign ministry said there were 127 of its nationals on the passenger list, including 37 truck drivers. Another 24 are from Turkey, Turkey's NTV station said.

- Stowaway fears -

No fuel spill has been detected at sea, and the ship's stability does not appear to be compromised, the company said.

"Tugboats have been hired and are heading towards the Euroferry Olympia to give prompt support and manage the emergency," it said.

"We heard that the fire started in the hold, but it's not certain," a Greek man who identified himself as a passenger told Skai TV.

"It took just 15 minutes for the fire to reach the deck," he said, adding that the mostly Italian crew's response had been "simply perfect".

"They were very organised. The crew saved us," he said.

The cause of the fire off the island of Ereikousa between Greece and Albania, is still unknown.

Greek coastguard patrol and tow boats were rushed to the site and a frigate and two helicopters took part in the rescue operations.

An Italian patrol boat also assisted, and some rescued passengers later told Italian news agency Ansa that the flames were "gigantic" and that panic had ensued.

"The evacuation was not a simple matter," the patrol boat's commander told Ansa.

Nikos Bardis, a local fisherman, had earlier told ERT that several fishing boats were also circling the stricken vessel, looking for people in the water.

There is heavy maritime traffic between the western Greek ports of Igoumenitsa and Patras and the Italian ports of Brindisi and Ancona.

The last shipboard fire in the Adriatic occurred in December 2014 on the Italian ferry Norman Atlantic. Thirteen people died in the blaze.