Greek rescuers find first ferry blaze victim
Rescuers searching a burning ferry off the Greek island of Corfu on Sunday recovered the body of a trucker, the first confirmed fatality, as a 21-year-old Belarussian man was found alive three days after the blaze began.
The 58-year-old Greek victim was one of 11 truck drivers -- seven Bulgarians, three Greeks and one Turk -- who had been unaccounted for on Sunday, three days after the fire struck, the Greek Coastguard told AFP.
Fire chief Dimitris Kontogiannis, who is coordinating the rescue operation, told Alpha tv on Sunday evening that the search for survivors would continue throughout the night.
On Sunday morning, 50 hours after the fire broke out, a man spotted on the stern of the stricken vessel was rescued alive.
The ferry was 1.5 miles (about two kilometres) off the northern part of Corfu, the coastguard said.
The smiling Belarussian was taken to Corfu on a coastguard boat wearing flip flops and put in an ambulance, television footage showed.
"I'm fine", he told journalists before being transported to hospital where he is expected to stay at least until tomorrow.
"Tell me I'm alive," the truck driver, had told rescuers, according to the Proto Thema news website.
"I was in my cabin. I went to the lower deck. I heard voices. I did not see others," the survivor told rescuers and doctors in the hospital where he was treated.
The news of the man's "miraculous" survival, according to Greek media, had raised hopes further lives might be saved.
"The ship may still have safe parts for the passengers," Andreas Korikis, who helped with the rescue on Friday told Athens News Agency (ANA).
"As we saw, one of them came out and the hope lives on. The search continues but in some places the access is impossible."
According to the fire brigade, at least 40 firemen were deployed in the area on Sunday morning to help with rescue efforts. Ten people now remain missing.
"The thermal load and the toxicity on the vessel remain high. In some areas, fire is still burning. The operation is really delicate," shipping deputy minister, Costas Katsafados told Skai.
- 'Miserable' conditions -
The blaze broke out on the Italian-flagged Euroferry Olympia late Thursday as it sailed from Igoumenitsa in Greece to Brindisi in Italy, with nearly 300 people aboard.
Rescuers had managed to save 280 passengers on Friday, evacuating them to Corfu.
The man rescued on Sunday was one of those drivers, the coastguard said.
The vessel was officially carrying 239 passengers and 51 crew, as well as 153 trucks and trailers and 32 passenger vehicles, the Grimaldi company has said.
But the coastguard has said two of those rescued were Afghans not on the manifest, sparking fears that more undocumented passengers could also be missing.
The missing truckers reportedly slept in their vehicles because cabins on the vessel were overcrowded.
Ilias Gerontidakis, the son of a missing Greek trucker, told the Proto Thema online newspaper the Olympia was "miserable from every point of view".
"It had bed bugs, it was dirty, it had no security systems," he said as he waited at the port for news.
"It had 150 lorries inside. Normally it should have 70 to 75 cabins, but it only has 50. They force us to sleep four people in a cabin", he said.
"My father, from what I was told, slept in the truck."
The vessel owner Grimaldi rejected the accusations, saying in a statement on Sunday that its ships, cabins and public spaces, are "regularly disinfected" and "the inspection of the Greek authorities on February 16, 2022 in the port of Igoumenitsa had satisfying results".
It added that its electronic booking system prevents overbooking and that no passenger is allowed on the vehicle decks.
Grimaldi added that "the 77 cabins (308 beds) and the 409 folding seats could easily accommodate the 239 passengers for a journey of nine hours".
- Agony -
News of the rescue of the Belarussian rippled through the relatives of those still missing who have an agonising wait in the port of Corfu.
Ert showed emotional scenes of a woman being carried away after fainting while others pleaded with the rescuers to hurry.
"He is alive, I tell you. He is alive. Do what you can. Please. They will not be able to live any longer…," Vana Bekiari, the wife of a missing Greek truck driver told ANA.
The last shipboard fire in the Adriatic occurred in December 2014 on the Italian ferry Norman Atlantic. Thirteen people died in that blaze.