Five people are dead and dozens remain stranded on a ferry adrift off the Albanian coast more than a day after a fire broke out on the ship's car deck. Strong winds, rain, and hail has impeded a coordinated rescue mission by Italy, Greece, and Albania.
According to the Associated Press, a group of 49 passengers managed to escape the vessel on a merchant ship and landed at the port in Bari, Italy, Monday. Helicopters have been working through the night to lift stranded passengers from the vessel; 391 of the ship's 478 passengers and crew have been reportedly rescued.
"This is a complicated rescue mission. The visibility is poor and the weather conditions are difficult, but we are confident because there are a good number of ships in the area," Greece Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis told the BBC.
The Norman Atlantic, sailing from Greece to Italy, caught fire Sunday morning. One of the rescued passengers told the Associated Press said the ship's fire alarm didn't sound until after smoke had filled passengers' cabins, forcing them out onto the ship's deck and into freezing conditions—CNN reports multiple passengers were treated for hypothermia and smoke inhalation. The passenger also claims there was "no crew in sight" to help disoriented guests.
Passengers described a chaotic scene as helicopters approached the vessel. "Everyone there was trampling on each other to get onto the helicopter," Christos Perlis told the AP. "First children, then women and then men. But the men, they started hitting us so they could get on first. They didn't take into consideration the women or the children, nothing."
Saadet Bayhan also said that the ship's passengers only learned of the fire after some saw smoke and awoke others. She told Turkey's NTV television, "We experienced the Titanic. The only thing missing was that we didn't sink."
[Images via AP]