Italian Ferry on Fire in Adriatic Sea Kills At Least One and Traps Hundreds

A rescue operation is under way after a fire broke out on an Italian ferry traveling off the coast of Greece in the Adriatic Sea. The fire started early Sunday morning and has trapped more than 400 people as they await assistance from a joint Italian-Greek rescue operation that involved eight rescue vessels. Greece's Merchant Marine Ministry announced later on Sunday that at least one person has died after jumping off the burning boat.

The Norman Atlantic, which is carrying more than 400 passengers, 56 crew members, and 222 vehicles, was on its way from Igoumenitsa, Greece, to Ancona, Italy, when a fire started near the garage and the crew sent out a distress signal. The rescue operation is currently ongoing and is expected to last into the night, but according to reports, strong winds of up to 55 miles per hour and freezing waters initially made it extremely difficult for the vessels to transfer passengers off the ferry.

Greece Coastguard spokesman Nikos Lagkadianos told NBC that a heavy storm was impeding the operation but also helping to contain the fire, though the ferry remains burning.

So far, according to CNN, at least 161 passengers have been rescued from the ship, which can be seen engulfed in flames and smoke, while more than 300 possible remain on board. The majority of those on board are Greek with 234 passengers and 34 crew members, said Lagadianos. The rest of the passengers are from Italy, Turkey, Albania, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and France.

One of the rescued passengers, Vassiliki Tavrizelou, who was on board with her 2-year-old daughter, described the terrifying scene to the Associated Press.

They called first on women and children to be evacuated from the ship.... Ships could not approach us because of the rain and winds. We were at least four hours on the deck, in the cold and rain.... Then we heard explosions.

In addition to rescue vessels, air crews have also begun lifting passengers off the ferry. According to a Greek Defence Ministry official, two Italian and two Greek helicopters have been dispatched to assist, and each helicopter transfer is taking about 15 minutes. Two tugboats were also at the scene and one of them was able to approach the ferry to try and extinguish the flames.

Nine of the rescued passengers were flown to the southern Italian city of Lecce while the rest of the rescued were transferred to nearby ships, according to Lagkadianos.

Image: KTLA/Twitter