Updated: 11 Passengers Missing After Fire Engulfs Grimaldi Ferry
Fire engulfed an Italian-register Ro/Pax ferry sailing in the Ionian Sea in the early hours of Friday, February 18. Reports indicated that more than 270 passengers and crew have been evacuated to the neighboring island of Corfu. A successful rescue effort was undertaken to rescue two truck drivers trapped on the lower decks of the vessel.
Reports indicate that as many as 11 people remain missing, with the authorities searching the water. Greek authorities on Corfu are reporting that as many as 10 people were taken to the local hospital. One person received minor injuries while several others were reporting breathing problems. Healthcare workers also reported that a two-month-old baby was also being taken to the hospital as a precaution.
The 27-year-old Euroferry Olympia operated by Italy’s Grimaldi Group departed from the port of Igoumenitsa of the west coast of Greece around 1:00 am local time for an eight-hour crossing to Brindisi in Italy. Aboard there were 239 passengers, 51 crew as well as 153 commercial vehicles and 32 passenger cars. The 33,588 gross ton vessel has a capacity of 560 people.
Le Unità Navali della #GuardiadiFinanza hanno partecipato ad un’operazione di salvataggio a bordo della nave traghetto Euroferry Olympia della Grimaldi Lines nei pressi di #Corfù. pic.twitter.com/jX1HYWM64r— Guardia di Finanza (@GDF) February 18, 2022
Shortly after 4:00 am the captain reported to Italian and Greece authorities that a fire had broken out on the number three deck and that crews were attempting to put it out. Within 20 minutes passengers reported being awoken by the emergency alarms and shortly after the captain ordered everyone to abandon ship. They reported that the fire was very intense and spread quickly. At the time there was a moderate breeze blowing in the area and the seas were mostly calm.
At least four patrol boats from the Hellenic Coast Guard, as well as an Italian patrol boat, private craft, and multiple helicopters, responded to the scene. The passengers and crew were recovered from four lifeboats and transferred to Corfu which was less than 10 miles away. Residents on Corfu reported seeing the ship on fire and possibly hearing one or more explosions.
After the evacuation, the authorities received a telephone call from two truck drivers who said they were trapped on the vehicle decks of the ferry. “Efforts are being made to lead them to the deck,” a Greek coastguard official told reporters. An early report from Grimaldi indicated that as many as five people had been tracked down on board.
The Greek Navy delivered special equipment to help crews to locate the two trapped individuals which they had been communicating with via their cell phones. Rescue crews were able to make their way through the thick smoke and lead the two to deck where they were air lifted by helicopter to shore and reported to be in a hospital.
On Corfu, they were working to identify the survivors and match them to the manifest. Reports are now saying that 277 or 278 people have been accounted for, with one of them believed to be a stowaway not on the passenger list.
Grimaldi reports that the vessel has continued to drift and is currently in Albanian waters. Two Albania vessels have joined the firefight now that the vessel is in their waters. Grimaldi has also hired the salvage company SMIT to secure the hulk with Royal Boskalis Westminster reporting that its salvage division has a team of twelve experts mobilized that will assist with the fire fighting operation. Two tugs were reported en route to secure the Euroferry Olympia.
The cause of the fire is unknown but a spokesperson for Grimaldi indicated that the early thinking was the fire started in one of the garages. They reported that have been no indications of a fuel sill and that the stability of the vessel appears not to have been compromised.
The Italian Guardia di Finanza is working with the Hellenic Coast Guard and monitoring the situation aboard the ferry. The Italian authorities have been using helicopters to monitor the water around the vessel and also requested the assistance of the European Maritime Safety Authority to investigate for environmental issues The authorities have already begun an investigation into the cause of the fire.