29 Dec 2014

10 dead after ferry blaze disaster off Greek coast

The death toll on a blazing ferry off the Greek coast reaches 10 amid reports more people could still be missing.

On rolling seas, rescuers lifted hundreds of surviving passengers to safety, including Briton Nick Channing-Williams (pictured below), who was rescued on Monday after reportedly spending more than 24 hours aboard the ship after it caught fire.

Italian authorities said that 10 people had been found dead after the disaster and it was initially thought that all surviving passengers had been rescued from the blazing ferry.

But confusion remained over the number of people who could still be missing, with some reports suggesting as many as 38.

The ship’s captain said it was too early to tell but there were concerns that the vessel could have been carrying many more than its manifest said.

Two Albanian sailors trying to retrieve the ferry also died when the cable connecting their tugboat to the vessel snapped.

The fire was basically cooking everybody’s feet. British survivor Nick Channing-Williams

It has since emerged that an inspection carried out 10 days ago uncovered serious fire safety and evacuation deficiencies with the passenger ferry.

Italian and Greek rescue crews worked through the night to pull survivors to safety.

Mr Channing-Williams, 37, was travelling with his fiancee to see his family in Berkshire for new year’s eve.

He said that by the time he reached the deck “the flames were huge, and all the cars were on fire” – and there were times he feared he might not make it out alive.

“When the flames are licking up around the boat and there is just no sign of help and they are talking about sending a boat that is going to be four hours away, you feel somewhat helpless,” he added.

“Around five o’clock this morning I did send a couple of text messages out to people because I sort of had convinced myself that we were going a little bit the wrong way.”

He also described how his fiancee Regina saw one man slip to his death earlier on Monday.

“There was a chap this morning that Regina witnessed slipping off the bottom rung of the ladder and he went under the boat, and he also certainly didn’t make it either,” he said.

Searing heat

The first sign of problems came on Sunday morning when a fire alarm rang out, he said.

“It was actually very scary, to be honest. There was only one place you could stand, which was in the rain.”

Everyone was in a queue to get on a lifeboat. Nick Channing-Williams

Mr Channing-Williams and his fiancee spent hours standing on the deck in rain, thunder and lightning as the fire raged on.

By the evening passengers were panicking as the ferry began to list and the heat intensified.

“The fire was basically cooking everybody’s feet and everyone was in a queue to get on a lifeboat,” he said.

“With the heat just being so enormous, people just panicked. I didn’t even try and get on one.

“Regina and I were stood upstairs and just hoped for the best, really, that someone would come and help us.”

Mr Channing-Williams said he saw other terrified families shivering and shaking in the rain and cold. Like him, they had not had the chance to gather suitable clothing.

Rescue effort

A fire broke out on the Italian ferry before dawn on Sunday, reportedly on the car decks of the vsessl, and the ship soon began to drift in rough seas between Italy and Greece.

Initial rescue efforts were held back by bad weather but helicopter crews from Greece and Italy have been slowly airlifting passengers from the upper deck of the Norman Atlantic in difficult sea conditions.

The ferry was being towed to the southern Italian port of Brindisi, co-ordinated by the Italian navy’s amphibious transport ship the San Giorgio.

Several passengers have been flown to Galatina in southern Italy.

Two people on the ferry were understood to have travelled on British passports, along with another four Britons who have dual citizenship.

The Foreign Office said on Monday morning that four British nationals had been rescued from the stricken ferry, before Mr Channing-Williams was pulled away from the ship.

Most of the passengers on board were Greek, and others came from Albania, Germany, Italy and Turkey, officials said.