Five 'Missing' Passengers Found Alive After Ferry Blaze Off The Coast Of Greece

Five out of 14 people feared missing after a ferry burst into flames have been found alive onboard, Greek media reported.

Two lorry drivers trapped in the ship's garage were also reportedly rescued, after elite forces and frogmen were sent in to bolster the rescue operation.

A Super Puma helicopter had attempted several times to approach the Euroferry Olympia, an Italian liner en route to Brindisi, when the fire broke out at around 4am.

State-run TV described the pair a Bulgarian and a Turk as lorry drivers trapped in the ship's garage.

Four lifeboats carrying an estimated 279 people had meanwhile headed for the Ionian island of Corfu, where authorities were hoping to match arrivals with the passenger list assembled by crew.

"There are unconfirmed reports of missing people although the Italian captain of the ship claims everyone has disembarked," Stefanos Ghikas, a local MP, was quoted earlier as saying by the news outlet Protothema.gr.

When asked about the prospect of missing passengers, a spokesman at the Greek shipping ministry overseeing the rescue operation told the Guardian nothing could be ruled out.

By midday, Hellenic navy ships, and at least three coastguard vessels, were participating in the rescue operation.

"We still don't have a clear picture and until everyone is counted and identified we won’t have one," Giorgos Skordilis, the spokesman, said.

The 183-metre Grimaldi Lines ferry had set sail from Greece's western port of Igoumenitsa with 239 passengers and 51 crew onboard. Most of the passengers were believed to be Italian.

The Greek shipping ministry said 25 vehicles and 153 trucks were also registered on the vessel.

The fire, the cause of which remains unknown, broke out about two hours after the ship left port, 10 miles north of Corfu, with residents on the island reportedly hearing explosions before large plumes of smoke were seen engulfing the vessel.

Paul Kyprianou, a spokesman with Grimaldi Lines, said there were indications the fire started in the ship's hold. "Damage is severe because despite their efforts the crew was unable to extinguish the fire," he told Reuters.

In a statement, the company said the blaze had erupted at 4.12am on a third-level car deck. "The ship's crew immediately intervened to fight the flames. For the safety of passengers, the captain decided to abandon the ship... the Grimaldi group wishes to express its deep regret for the incident and will offer full cooperation to the authorities to shed light on the cause of the fire."

An Italian finance police boat, which happened to be in the area, was credited with playing a seminal role in the rescue operation with the country’s president, Sergio Mattarella, calling the finance unit's commander personally to thank him.

Describing the dramatic moments when passengers were told to evacuate as flames licked the sides of the ferry, the finance police vessel’s captain, Simone Cicchetti, told the Italian news agency Ansa: "When the fire broke out, the ship's commander went around the cabins and brought the passengers together on a single desk. Then he gave the order to abandon ship, but the evacuation wasn’t a stroll in the park."

Speaking to the newspaper La Repubblica, he added: "A blaze onboard is a terrible experience."

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