8 found dead after ferry fire off Greece as grim search continues

ATHENS — Rescuers exploring the charred hull of a ferry that caught fire off the Greek island of Corfu this month found eight bodies and were looking for three more on Saturday, Greek authorities said.

A total of 281 people have been rescued from the Italian-owned Euroferry Olympia after the fire broke out in the early hours of February 18, hours after the ship left the northern Greek port of Igoumenitsa -west, bound for Brindisi, Italy.

Most of those on board the ferry were rescued by the Greek Coast Guard, aided by Italian authorities, in the first hours after the fire. Two other passengers were rescued by helicopter later in the day, and a third managed to reach the deck after being trapped in the garage on the lower level of the ship for more than 50 hours.

“The search is continuing,” Greek Coast Guard spokesman Nikolaos Alexiou said on Saturday morning. The ship’s ramp remained blocked, he noted, which limited rescuers’ access to the garages. “We will resume efforts to open it today,” he said.

The stricken ferry was towed to the major port of Astakos in western Greece on Wednesday, where search efforts have intensified, according to a spokesman for the Greek fire service, Vassilis Vathrakoyiannis. He said it was difficult to say exactly when the fire was put out and that high temperatures, exceeding 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit, or 600 degrees Celsius, remained a hindrance for much of the work. “These hot spots can reignite the fire at any time,” he said.

Videos posted by Greek news sites last week showed the devastation caused by the blaze, with rescuers from the Greek fire service walking through the charred remains of trucks amid thick plumes of black smoke.

Last Sunday, members of the Greek Disaster Fire Brigade’s special unit found the body of a Greek man in the cabin of a truck in one of the ferry’s three garages. Another body was found on Wednesday and six more on Thursday and Friday. At least three other people are said to be missing.

According to the owner, Grimaldi Lines, the ship had 153 trucks and 32 cars on board.

An official from the Greek Ministry of Merchant Marine said the eight bodies were found in the garages and so far two have been identified, both of them Greek truck drivers. Nine other names on the passenger list have yet to be matched with a survivor or body. All are truck drivers: one Greek, seven Bulgarians and one Turk.

However, as two of the 281 people rescued were Afghan citizens who were not on the list, authorities did not rule out that other undocumented passengers were on board.

The level of devastation, said the fire service’s Mr Vathrakoyiannis, was such that “some bodies may never be found”.

The cause of the fire has yet to be determined, although Greek authorities say it started in one of the ship’s three garages, as many surviving passengers testified.

It is not uncommon for truckers to sleep in their vehicles during overnight ferry crossings rather than in ship cabins. The tragedy has rekindled debate about the need for stricter inspections to curb this practice.

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