On December 28, 2014 the passenger ferry “Norman Atlantic” caught fire in the Strait of Otranto in the Adriatic Sea, en route from the Greek port of Patras to Ancona, Italy.
The “Norman Atlantic” became one of the deadlier maritime disasters in recent Greek history. The bodies of nine victims, including three Greeks, two Italians, two Germans, a Georgian and one Turkish passenger, were recovered from the sea.
Nineteen other individuals, including nine Greeks, four Turks, two Italians, one German, two Syrians and one Iraqi stowaway, remain missing to this day, and are presumed dead.
The fire broke out on the car deck just before 6:00 AM local time, just half an hour after leaving the port of Igoumenitsa, Greece, which was an intermediate stop on the ferry’s regular route.
At the time she was carrying 222 vehicles, as well as 487 passengers and 55 crew members.
The heat from the fire permeated the steel infrastructure of the entire ship, even beginning to melt the soles of people’s shoes on the reception deck.
The incident occurred in Greek territorial waters but with night closing in, the ship started drifting toward Albania. There were gale-force winds and torrential rains at the time.
Dramatic footage showed passengers’ panic and anxiety as they were waiting for rescue crews to arrive.
Survivors asserted that the order to abandon ship was not given until four hours after the fire had begun. Despite their cabins filling with smoke, no alarm had yet sounded. Some passengers also stated that the ferry’s crew gave them little assistance.
Survivors described “scenes from hell” on board the burning ship, with the crew completely overwhelmed by the crisis, and “the law of the jungle” prevailing aboard. An orderly evacuation of the huge ferry proved impossible.
The “Norman Atlantic” was towed to the port of Brindisi, Italy, arriving there on January 2, 2015.
The ship continued to burn in port for almost two weeks, until January 10, 2015, when firefighters were finally able to enter the hull to inspect the damage.
A Turkish passenger reported that the fire could possibly have been caused by illegal Afghan immigrants who had boarded the ship concealed in a lorry, lighting a fire in the ship’s garage to keep themselves warm. Another possible cause was sparking caused by trucks scraping the sides of the vessel.