Fire breaks out on ferry in Greece with 288 people on board

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A fire broke out Friday on an Italian-flagged ferry sailing through the Ionian Sea, injuring one crew member among the nearly 300 people on board, the Greek coastguard said.

The fire on the ‘Euroferry Olympia,’ which was heading to Italy from the Greek port city of Igoumenitsa, broke out at 4:30 am (0130 GMT). It was carrying 239 passengers and 51 crew on board as well as vehicles.

A Greek coastguard spokeswoman said it would take several hours to extinguish the fire. She did not confirm Greek media reports of people trapped on board.

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There are fears there could be unknown passengers on board, such as migrant stowaways who frequently sneak onto ferries between Greece and Italy.

The injured crew member was 42 years old, a coastguard official told AFP. Television images showed the man, walking with difficulty and helped by firefighters.

He was transported to Corfu on a coastguard patrol boat and was hospitalized with breathing difficulties, according to local media reports.

“The passengers were transferred safe and sound on rescue boats to Corfu,” Rodi Kratsa, the governor of the Ionian Islands region told Greek public broadcaster ERT television.

The coastguard said the operation was still underway.

“We heard that the fire started in the hold, but it’s not certain,” a man who identified himself as a passenger told Skai TV.

“It took just 15 minutes for the fire to reach the deck,” he said, adding that the mostly Italian crew’s response had been “simply perfect.”

“They were very organized. The crew saved us,” he said.

Television images showed the ship, owned by Italy’s Grimaldi Lines, enveloped in flames which sent plumes of black smoke into the sky.

The cause of the fire, which erupted off the island of Ereikousa between Greece and Albania, is still unknown.

Greek coastguard patrol and tow boats were rushed to the site and a frigate, and two helicopters took part in the rescue operations.

Nikos Bardis, a local fisherman, told ERT that several fishing boats were also circling the stricken vessel, looking for people in the water.

“We can hear explosions, it must be freight trucks blowing up,” he said.

There is heavy maritime traffic between the western Greek ports of Igoumenitsa and Patras and the Italian ports of Brindisi and Ancona.

The last shipboard fire in the Adriatic occurred in December 2014 on the Italian ferry Norman Atlantic. Thirteen people died in the blaze.

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