They Thought It Was a Drill. Then, 'People Were Running'

Rescue is on for 12 missing after ferry catches fire off coast of Greece
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 19, 2022 11:00 AM CST
A Ferry Goes Up in Flames: 'I Escaped Hell'
Firefighters hose down the burning Euroferry Olympia near the Greek island of Corfu on Friday.   (Albanian Defense Ministry via AP)

(Newser) – Rescue teams in Greece searched a burning ferry Saturday for 12 people believed to be missing after it caught fire in the Ionian Sea while en route to Italy, while passengers described a frightening evacuation from the ship. After working all night to try to extinguish the blaze that broke out Friday, firefighting vessels surrounded the Euroferry Olympia, which was carrying more than 290 passengers and crew. The Greek coast guard and other boats evacuated about 280 of them to Corfu. "When we got into the boats, I said, 'I escaped hell,'" truck driver Dimitris Karaolanidis told the AP. Photos taken Saturday morning showed thick smoke hanging over the ship, which was transporting 153 trucks and 32 cars.

A Greek coast guard spokeswoman said Saturday afternoon that none of the 12 missing people had been found, although she said only small pockets of fire were active in the ferry. A Greek prosecutor on the island of Corfu has ordered an investigation into the cause of the fire, which broke out three hours after the ferry left the port of Igoumenitsa, on the mainland in northwest Greece across from Corfu, for the Italian port of Brindisi. The Italy-based company that operated the ferry said the fire started in a hold where vehicles were parked. The ship's captain and two engineers were arrested Friday but were released the same day, authorities said.

Passengers described a dramatic rescue situation. "We heard the alarm, we thought it was some kind of drill. But we saw through the portholes that people were running," Karaolanidis said. "When I hit the deck, I saw smoke and children. Fortunately ... [the crew] acted quickly." "The moments were tragic. It was difficult ... Very difficult," said another truck driver, Dimitris Karavarnitis. "Thankfully the guys responded quickly and ... we will return to our families. That's what matters." On Friday, authorities increased the number of missing from 11 to 12 after discovering that one person from the ferry wasn't listed on the passenger manifest. The other missing passengers were believed to be mostly from Bulgaria. Officials said the people rescued included citizens of Albania, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Italy, and Lithuania.

(Read more Greece stories.)

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