Following the outbreak of a fire on the Norman Atlantic ro-pax ferry on the morning of Sunday 28 December, 200 people were still onboard by early Monday as adverse weather conditions slowed progress of rescue operation.
By Tuesday, the number of dead had risen to 10 but the tally of remaining missing persons was unclear due to a lack of clarity regarding numbers onboard. In addition, it was reported that two Albanian crew members of a tugboat were killed on Tuesday during an operation to tow the ferry.
There were also reports on Tuesday of various charges being considered by prosecutors against both the owner and the captain of the vessel, including multiple manslaughter, negligence leading to a shipwreck and negligence leading to bodily harm.
Most of those onboard were evacuated by helicopter from the vessel, which had caught fire while sailing between Italy and Albania. The fire started on the car deck during the run from Patras to Ancona, half an hour after departing Igoumenitsa, Greece.
The Norman Atlantic was carrying 222 vehicles, 411 passengers and 55 crew members. Italian Prime minister Matteo Renzi said that the Italian and Greek Governments were working together to evacuate the ship. The Italian Coast Guard took charge of the rescue operations from Italian cruise vessel Cruise Europa.
Work continued through the night to get passengers and crew off the ship and onto helicopters. Most were taken to nearby merchant vessels but some were flown to southern Italy suffering from hypothermia. The Adriatic port of Bari was the focus for the arrival of most of those onboard. Initial plans were to take people to the port of Brindisi but rough seas prevented this.
Built in 2009, the ship sails under the Italian flag. Owned by Visemar di Navigazione, the vessel is currently on charter as a joint venture between ANEK Lines and Superfast Ferries. Previous charters under the name Scintu were to Grande Navi Veloci in January 2013, to Moby Lines in April 2013 and to LD Lines in October 2013. The vessel was renamed Norman Atlantic in January 2014 and was on charter to Caronte & Tourist in September before moving to ANEK Lines in December 2014.