A fire broke out on a Greek ferry carrying 478 passengers and crew from the Greek island of Patras to Ancona, Italy, early Sunday off the coast of Albania. As of early Monday, five people have been found dead and 391 have been rescued, many by helicopters working in the dark and strong winds above frigid seas. Most of the rescued passengers are being transferred to about 10 cargo ships, and the first of those ships, the Spirit of Piraeus, reached the Italian port of Bari on Monday morning, carrying 49 passengers.
(Update: Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said Monday that all passengers have now been evacuated from the ship. The captain and four sailors remain on board for now.)
The fire broke out on the car deck of the Italian-flagged ferry Norman Atlantic before dawn on Sunday, and passengers tell the media that fellow passengers, not fire alarms, spread news of the conflagration. About 150 passengers were able to escape in life boats before the ship's power failed, leaving the boats useless on the electronic winches. The remaining passengers huddled on the smoky deck, pelted by freezing rain, hail, and spray from fire hoses aimed at the ship from tugboats.
"Our feet were burning and from the feet up we were soaked," truck driver Christos Perlis, 32, told The Associated Press from one of the rescue vessels. --Peter Weber