December 30, 2014 / 4:33 PM / 3 years ago

Italy warns ferry fire death toll could rise, two killed in salvage

TIRANA/ROME (Reuters) - Two Albanian seamen were killed on Tuesday during the salvage operation of a car ferry that caught fire off Greece’s Adriatic Coast two days ago on a voyage to Italy.

A man (C) and his daughter (2nd L), both rescued from the Norman Atlantic ferry, disembark from a Greek Airforce C-130 military cargo aircraft at the Elefsina military airport near Athens, Greece, December 29, 2014. REUTERS/Yannis Kolesidis/Pool

The disaster killed at least 11 people and dozens more are feared missing, although more than 400 people were successfully airlifted from the stricken vessel over Sunday and Monday.

The men were killed when a cable connecting their tugboat to the smoldering hulk of the Norman Atlantic snapped and hit them, an Albanian port authority official and Italy’s navy said.

As salvage operations continued, there was confusion over the numbers on the ship, with dozens of names on the passenger manifest unaccounted for and no clarity over whether they had drowned or had not actually been aboard in the first place.

It was also unclear how many people, including illegal immigrants, may have boarded without being recorded. Italy and Greece have opened separate investigations into what caused the fire, which broke out on a lower deck.

One more body was recovered on Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 11, the Italian navy said, while 427 people had been rescued, bringing the total to well short of the 478 names recorded on the ship’s manifest.

FEAR MORE DEAD

Italian and Greek helicopters and rescue vessels battled rough seas and high winds for 36 hours, winching scores of people off the deck as the blaze raged below.

Ute Kilger, a German survivor who arrived in Brindisi earlier on Tuesday, told Reuters: “I was lucky, I was saved after nearly 24 hours. This is a long time to fill with hope and with fear that you will die.”

Passengers saved from the wreck began arriving in Italy on Monday and the San Giorgio amphibious transport ship arrived in the southern port of Brindisi late on Tuesday with 212 survivors as well as five bodies on board.

Italian investigators have already begun collecting testimony from the passengers and crew as they try to ascertain the cause of the fire and assess the handling of the emergency.

The Italian captain of the Norman Atlantic, Argilio Giacomazzi, will also be questioned, Italian prosecutor Giuseppe Volpe said.

Volpe, a public prosecutor in the Italian port city of Bari, said on Tuesday 499 people had boarded the ferry and 179 were missing. It was not clear how this calculation had been made.

“Given that the ship was indisputably carrying illegal migrants who were probably hidden in the hold, we fear that we’ll find more dead people once we recover the wreck,” Volpe said.

The two Albanian seamen killed on Tuesday were part of an eight-strong crew working overnight to tow the gutted ferry, which was chartered by Greek ferry operator Anek Lines.

Albania has agreed to let Bari prosecutors impound the Italian-flagged ship and investigate the cause of the fire, Volpe and the Albanian general prosecutor’s office said.

additional reporting by Roberto Mignucci and Carmelo Camilli in Brindisi, Angeliki Koutantou in Athens and Antonella Cinelli in Rome, writing by Isla Binnie; editing by Ralph Boulton

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