Italy ferry fire: Criminal probe launched as eight confirmed dead while Norman Atlantic boat found to have safety 'deficiencies'

The eight-year-old boat was found to have had faulty fire-doors

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Italy opened a criminal investigation today into the ferry fire which broke out yesterday morning and killed five as a safety inspection prior to sail shows there were “deficiencies” with the fire doors and emergency systems.

Prosecutors in the Italian port of Bari opened the case to examine whether negligence played a part in the catastrophe on the Norman Atlantic vessel.

Eight people have died, coastguard spokesman Nikos Lagadianos confirmed, and all the passengers and crew on the ship have since been evacuated.

The Italian owner of the boat, Visemar Di Navigazione, has insisted that the vessel was in full working order and had passed a technical inspection on 19 December, as reported by AFP.

However, an online report by ship safety organisation Paris MoU into the same investigation on 19 December states that some fire doors had malfunctioned and emergency system parts were “missing”. It is not known if they were repaired before the ferry left the port.

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The online report which shows the faulty fire doors on the ship

One Greek man was found dead after he became trapped in a lifeboat chute with his wife, who suffered injuries. Nearly 480 people were stranded and sleeping on the cold and wet top decks overnight while trying to escape the spreading flames.

The investigation will also explore how the blaze on the car deck had started, at 6am local time, and how it had spread so quickly that the plastic on passengers shoes started to melt.

A cook on the ship is reported to have said in a call to his wife: “I cannot breathe, we are all going to burn like rats. God save us.”

The news of the four subsequent deaths reached dry land when a cargo ship that had rescued 49 people, including four children, docked in Bari.

Six British people were on board the Italian-owned Norman Atlantic vessel that was sailing to Greece from Italy.

Greek Shipping Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis has said that due to the stormy conditions the rescue operation proved extremely difficult in saving passengers.

He had said: “We are doing everything we can to save those on board and no one, no one will be left helpless in this tough situation.

“It is one of the most complicated rescue operations that we have ever done.”