Crew members of burning Norman Atlantic vessel 'may have fled ship before passengers'

Nick Channing-Williams said crew were nowhere to be found at times

Lamiat Sabin@LamiatSabin
Wednesday 31 December 2014 11:25
Briton Nick Channing-Williams, covered in soot, with Captain Paolo Papi of the Italian Air Force (PA)
Briton Nick Channing-Williams, covered in soot, with Captain Paolo Papi of the Italian Air Force (PA)

Crew members on board the Italian-owned ferry that caught fire in which killed at least 10 people may have fled for safety before the passengers, a British showjumper who survived the disaster has claimed.

Nick Channing-Williams was on board the Norman Atlantic, a vessel chartered by Greek shipping company Anek Lines, and said that he believed some crew members had taken places on the scarce lifeboats at the beginning of the rescue mission.

The 37-year-old, who has now returned home to Berkshire, said that no crew members were found when he and a group of other passengers attempted to connect tow ropes from a tug boat to the burning ferry.

He told The Times: “There were no crew members down there - it was just us. I couldn’t work that out. From what I understood, some of the crew members bailed out at the beginning.”

Mr Channing-Williams, who was later reunited with his Greek fiancée Regina Theoffili who was rescued from the blazing vessel before him, also claimed some crew members had “got off with the first lifeboats”.

He said: “There were so many women and children left on the boat. Why were they not the first in line to get on the lifeboat? It was just chaos. And I think there should be a few people with their heads a bit low.

A spokesman for Anek Lines told the paper: “It is too early now to deal with responsibilities about the accident. I don’t have any evidence that the crew left before the passengers.”

The blaze broke out on the car deck on Sunday while the ferry was travelling from the Greek port of Patras to Ancona in Italy.

The fire caused thick, acrid smoke to fill cabins, waking passengers on the overnight ferry and passengers allegedly received no instructions from the crew. They spent hours in the cold and wet to escape the flames from burning them and many were admitted to hospital for hypothermia.

There is also confusion over the numbers of people on board, prompting fears from Italian prosecutors that more bodies may be found once the ship is recovered from the Adriatic Sea. A total of 427 people were rescued, while Anek Lines said there were 475 on board.

The vessel was found to have safety “deficiencies” with fire doors malfunctioning and parts of emergency systems missing in a report filed on 19 December by ship inspection organisation Paris MoU prior to the journey.

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