Stricken ferry rescue effort making slow progress but one passenger dies

A rescue effort aimed at helping dozens of passengers, including many Greeks, off a ferry stranded in the Adriatic Sea near Corfu was continuing on Sunday night in treacherous conditions.

Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said on Sunday evening that one Greek had died amid the rescue attempts. Authorities named him as Yiorgos Doulis, a passenger.

Around 165 people had been helped to safety by 7 p.m. Greek time from the Norman Atlantic, which ran into problems in the early hours of the morning when a fire broke out on board. Many of those rescued were airlifted and four Italian and Greek helicopter crews were due to work through the night to continue transferring passengers to safety.

“We are making superhuman efforts in this extremely difficult operation,” Greek coast guard spokesman Nikos Lagkadianos said. “Operations by air will continue throughout the night.”

More than 300 passengers and crew remained on board at around 7 p.m. Greek, Italian and Albanian coast guard boats, as well as commercial vessels, were helping in the rescue attempt, which was hampered by gale force winds. A tugboat was due to attempt to tow the 26,900-ton to a nearby port.

The Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic had set sail from the Greek port of Patra and was travelling to Ancona in Italy, via Igoumenitsa in northwestern Greece. Authorities said that of the 478 people on board, 268 were Greek.

The roll-on roll-off ferry had been chartered by Greek ferry company ANEK. According to marine traffic data, it was built in 2009 and previously operated in Italy.

A document made public yesterday suggested that safety checks carried out by port authorities in Patra on December 19 found that some of the vessels safety features were malfunctioning or missing. An ANEK spokesman insisted the ferry had all the necessary safety documentation.