During a weekend already filled with international tragedy, passengers on an Italian ferry found themselves living out their own emergency situation.
According to Yahoo! News, a fire broke out in the lower deck garage of a vessel ferrying passengers in the Adriatic Sean on Sunday. Almost 500 passengers were aboard the Norman Atlantic ferry when it caught fire and was set adrift.
Members of the Greek Coast Guard are continuing operations to evacuate passengers. In the most recent statement on events, Greek officials confirmed 131 passengers had been rescued. The Greek defense ministry verified that each transfer via helicopter takes approximately 15 minutes, so the rescue is expected to take some time. The helicopters are transferring passengers to a nearby rescue boat. Tugboats are also assisting attempts to extinguish the blaze.
A Greek Coast Guard spokesman said that heavy rain was hampering the rescue, even as it helped contain the fire. Greek Shipping Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis also stated poor conditions in the Adriatic Sea were hampering operations.
“We are doing everything we can to save those on board and no one, no one will be left helpless in this tough situation. It is one of the most complicated rescue operations that we have ever done.”
According to CNN, the Norman Atlantic was traveling from Igoumenitsa, Greece to Ancona, Italy, on Sunday when the fire broke out.
While the rescue operations are taking longer than normal due to weather conditions, no casualties have been reported at this point.
Italian officials are in command of the rescue operation, while Greece and Albania are providing assistance.
Passing container and passenger ships have also provided assistance, forming a ring around the burning vessel in an attempt to form a wind break, but again, the rough seas have made this difficult as well.
Officials have confirmed the fire broke out in the lower deck garage of the Norman Atlantic sometime around 4:30 a.m. local time. The Norman Atlantic is a 26,900 ton auto ferry run by ANEK, a Greek ferry company. The vessel was built in 2009. ANEK is reportedly cooperating with rescue officials.
[Photo Courtesy of ANEK Lines]