The story of the Norman Atlantic, an Italian ferry that caught fire Sunday morning en route from Greece to Italy, leaves many questions open, as officials struggle to keep count of casualties and missing people.
The ferry was cruising from Patras, Greece, to Ancona, Italy, when the flames started in the lower car deck.
It is suspected that the first blazes originated from a lorry carrying olive oil that was scrapping against the ceiling of the car deck. The oil acted as a combustible and helped to spread the fire.
Ten bodies have been found by the Italian navy and two more Albanian seamen were killed on Tuesday morning while towing the vessel to shore.
This would raise the total death toll to 12. But there could be more as details are fuzzy.
Neither Greek and nor Italian authorities know for certain how many people were on board when the fire broke out at around 4.50 am local time (3.50 am GMT) on Sunday morning.
The ferry is now in Albanian waters, meaning that authorities from three different countries are coordinating to make clear of any doubts.
The official check-in list counted 422 passengers and 56 crew members (478 people in total), but the Italian navy on Monday rescued several undocumented migrants who where on board of the vessel.
In a press conference on Tuesday morning, an Italian coastal guard spokesman confirmed that at least three migrants, two Afghans and one Syrian, were rescued. He also hinted that several victims might still be found on the shipwreck.
Another estimate from the Italian coastal guard raised the total number of people on board to 499, given that 18 people were listed as overbooking and three are the migrants found so far.
Four Britons who were on board were rescued earlier on Monday, according to the Guardian.
When the Italian coastal guard closed its operations on Monday evening, it announced that 427 people were rescued and 10 bodies were found:
This means that up to 62 people are still missing, but the Italian coastal guard on Tuesday morning was still waiting for two merchant vessels to cruise back to Greece with “an uncertain number of rescued passengers on board”.
Although Italian media fear that the number of victims might quickly raise in the next few hours, rescuers think that some passengers may have left the ship in a stop over in Igoumenitsa on Sunday night (the ferry kept no record of who was getting off the ship at that point), where it is also suspected that illegal migrants might have come aboard.
In the map below, the orange line is the original route towards Ancona, where the ferry was due to arrive on Sunday afternoon.
Greek and Italian authorities are now trying to figure it out who was on board, given that another list quotes that 458 people were on board when the ferry left Patras.
The extremely bad weather hindered rescue operations on Sunday and Monday, forcing the coastal guard to operate only via helicopters to bring the passengers to safety.
When a merchant vessel tried to attach a rope to the burning ferry, the flames burned through the rope several times. The Navy was finally able to tow it on Monday afternoon, after the flames had died down.
The captain of the ferry was last person to leave the ship at around 2.50 p.m. on Monday, more than 34 hours after the alarm went off:
To make things worse, it has been revealed that when the ferry was inspected in Patras on Dec. 19, the investigators found six deficiencies in the security system, one of them in a fire door above the car deck.
Both the owner of the ferry and a spokesman from the Italian navy claimed that every issue had been resolved before the ship left Patras.
Italy has opened a criminal probe into the event.
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