Fire broke out shortly after the ferry left Patras on Monday night. All 413 passengers and crew were promptly evacuated, and it was only on examination of the garage where the blaze started that the illegal immigrants were found. They had boarded the ship by hiding in a truck carrying onions.
The ship's captain, Yanis Kasepidis, said he believed that the stowaways had died from asphyxiation, as the doors of the garage were programmed to close automatically in a fire. The blaze was probably caused by a short circuit on a truck.
Over the weekend five illegal immigrants drowned in accidents involving smugglers' boats off the south-east Italian coast.