Norman Atlantic ferry fire Q and A: What has happened to the vessel, and what do we know about its evacuation?

Simon Calder Q&A: What is the vessel, and what do we know about it?

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The Independent Online

A major international rescue operation is underway in the Adriatic Sea, where a fire has started on a car ferry carrying almost 500 people from Greece to Italy.

This is what we know about the developing incident.

Q: What is the vessel, and what do we know about it?

It is Norman Atlantic, a roll-on/roll-off car ferry that is about five years old - making it relatively new. The owner is an Italian company, Visemar, and it is chartered to the long-established Greek firm, ANEK - which has been operating since 1967.

The vessel is part of a busy network of ferries connecting Greece with Italy. This ship was about one-third of the way on its 24-hour voyage from Patras, the main port on the Peloponnese, via Igoumenitsa in Greece, to Ancona on Italy’s Adriatic coast, when fire broke out in the early hours of the morning on the car deck. ANEK says that 422 passengers and 56 crew were on board.

Q: Where is the ship?

Thirty-five miles north of Corfu, sailing in international waters off the coast of Albania. ANEK says: “There is an evacuation operation under way with the help of the vessel's crew and owners in co-operation with Italian and Greek authorities.” It is understood that the Albanians are also assisting.

Q: How survivable is a fire at sea?

Although fire is potentially extremely dangerous at sea, modern ferries are designed to make the peril survivable - with systems for hampering the spread of the fire while an evacuation takes place. However, foul weather is making the rescue difficult. The Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said: “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.”

Q: Have there been safety concerns about Greek ferries before?

The nation has a very well-regarded maritime industry. In 2000 the ferry Express Samina sank with the loss of 82 tourists after it hit a rock off the island of Paros.