Flood Kills Two In Greece

Rescuers search the waters along the beach of the popular resort of Agia Pelagia, on the southern Greek island of Crete, following flash floods on October 15, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

 

Two people were killed after torrential rain brought major flooding to the Greek island of Crete, firefighters said on Sunday.

Rain started to fall on Saturday morning on the southern Greek island, a popular holiday destination, hitting the Heraklion region particularly hard.

Greek firefighters said the body of a 49-year-old woman was found in the sea on Sunday, raising the death toll to two from the floods.

On Saturday, a man in his 50s was found dead after he was trapped in his car as torrential rains began.

The two individuals were going to Heraklion for work, Greek public television ERT reported.

Rescuers search the waters along the beach of the popular resort of Agia Pelagia, on the southern Greek island of Crete, following flash floods on October 15, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

 

A second missing individual was found alive on Saturday evening.

The rains forced the evacuation of several homes and unleashed extensive damage in seaside villages, where streets became rivers carrying away everything in their path, local media reported.

The flash floods pushed several cars into the sea along the beach of the seaside resort of Agia Pelagia, with some almost completely submerged in the water and surrounded by debris.

The beach was covered in scrap including plastic bottles and toys, next to straw umbrellas.

The flooding also damaged more than 15 shops, mainly fine restaurants, in Agia Pelagia, popular with wealthy diners.

The Civil Defence department said it was mobilised and asked all citizens to be vigilant on Sunday in Crete and the surrounding islands of Rhodes, Karpathos, Kastellorizo and Kasos.

AFP

17 Dead, Dozens Missing In Greece Migrant Sinkings

File photo used for illustration only.

 

At least 17 people died and nearly 30 were still missing after high winds sank two migrant vessels in Greece, the coastguard said Thursday, with some survivors dramatically hoisted to safety by crane.

A dinghy believed to be carrying around 40 people sank east of the island of Lesbos in high winds, coastguard spokesman Nikos Kokkalas told state TV ERT, adding that the people are of apparent African origin.

The bodies of 16 women and a young boy have been recovered from the area so far, the coastguard said.

A few hours earlier, the coastguard was alerted to a sailboat in distress near the island of Kythira, south of the Peloponnese peninsula. The sailboat believed to be carrying around 95 people ran aground and sank near the island port of Diakofti.

Some of the survivors made it to shore, and an operation involving vessels at sea and the fire service and police on land managed to locate 80 asylum seekers from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

Dramatic footage released by the coastguard showed some of the survivors hoisted up the vertical face of a huge cliff by rope, some barely managing to hold on.

Kythira mayor Stratos Harhalakis said a construction crane was also used in the “titanic” rescue operation.

There was no official toll yet from a second sinking near the island of Kythira, south of the Peloponnese peninsula, but Harhalakis said he had seen five bodies.

‘Worst place to crash’

“This was the worst possible place on the island to crash,” Harhalakis told ERT. “Nobody could approach (them) by sea, it was incredibly difficult.”

The coastguard said 10 other women had been rescued in the Lesbos incident, while over a dozen people were believed to be missing.

It was difficult to get more information from the survivors as they were “utterly panicked,” Kokkalas said.

The survivors in Kythira includes seven women and 18 children, a coastguard spokeswoman told AFP.

Kokkalas said their sailboat had been “completely destroyed.”

Both operations were facing adverse weather. In the Kythira area, winds were as high as 102 kilometres (63 miles) per hour, the coastguard said.

‘EU must act’

Greece has seen increased migration traffic this year, and accuses Turkey of failing to enforce a 2016 agreement with the EU to keep migrants from sailing on to Europe.

Greece’s Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi on Thursday tweeted after the two incidents that Turkey should “take immediate action to prevent all irregular departures due to harsh weather conditions”.

“Already today many lives lost in the Aegean, people are drowning in unseaworthy vessels. EU must act,” Mitarachi said.

Greece, Italy and Spain are among the countries used by people fleeing Africa and the Middle East in search of safety and better lives in the European Union.

The coastguard has said it has rescued about 1,500 people in the first eight months of the year, up from fewer than 600 last year.

Officials note that smugglers now often take the longer and more perilous route south of the country, and sailing out from Lebanon instead of Turkey to bypass patrols in the Aegean Sea and reach Italy.

In December, at least 30 people perished in three separate migrant boat sinkings in the Aegean. The precise death toll is almost impossible to calculate as some bodies are never recovered, or reach shore weeks later.

Greece has rejected persistent claims from rights groups that many more have been illegally pushed back to Turkey without being allowed to lodge asylum claims.

Over the weekend, another group of over 50 migrants whose sailing boat ran into difficulty in the Ionian Sea refused Greek assistance for an entire day until deteriorating weather forced them to back down.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month said Greek “oppressive policies” against migrants were turning the Aegean into a “graveyard.”

Greece’s Mitarachi this week countered that Turkey is “violently pushing forward migrants to Greece, in violation of international law” and the EU agreement.

Southern European nations — Greece, Spain, Italy, Malta and Cyprus — expect around 160,000 asylum seekers to arrive on their shores this year, Mitarachi told reporters last month.

Molotov Cocktail Attack Against Iran Embassy In Athens

People protest outside the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm, Sweden, on September 24, 2022, following the death of an Iranian woman after her arrest by the country’s morality police in Tehran. AFP

 

A Molotov cocktail bomb was thrown against the Iranian embassy in Athens on Sunday, Athens News Agency reported.

According to Greek police, at around 1:00 am local time (2200 GMT on Saturday), two people riding a motorcycle with their faces covered hurled the weapon on the wall of the embassy where it exploded.

No damage was caused.


READ ALSO: 11 Killed By Cattle Rustlers In North Kenya


On Saturday afternoon, around 200 people gathered at Syntagma Square in downtown Athens to denounce Iran’s crackdown on protests following the death of Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the country’s notorious morality police.

Iranian women cut their hair in a gesture of solidarity with Amini, brandishing placards reading “say her name!”.

Greece Battles Fierce Wildfires Amid Heatwave

Tourists enjoy the beach in Phalasarna, northwest of the Greek mediterranean island of Crete on July 20, 2022, while temperatures remain at normal for the season levels despite the heatwave in northern parts of Europe. (Photo by Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP)

 

Greece on Sunday battled three major wildfires across the country which forced hundreds to evacuate, as soaring temperatures raised fears of more blazes.

The country is in the grip of a heatwave that began on Saturday and is expected to last 10 days. Temperatures were set to rise to 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) in some regions.

Experts blame climate change for the soaring temperatures and warned that the worst is yet to come.

Fires raged in the north, east and south of Greece, including on the island of Lesbos.

Officials ordered the evacuation of around 200 people on Sunday afternoon from Vryssa village on Lesbos as flames crept closer, some 500 metres (1,600 feet) from houses, the deputy mayor of western Lesbos told Skai radio.

Elderly women carried plastic bags with only a few personal belongings as they boarded the first buses to leave the village.

Thick clouds of smoke were already engulfing the first houses of Vryssa.

Early in the afternoon, the village of Stavros was also evacuated.

The blaze broke out a day earlier, causing the evacuation of hundreds of tourists and residents from the beachside village of Vatera.

At least four houses were destroyed in Vatera, state TV ERT reported, and fires damaged an unknown number of shops, hotels and beach bars in the village.

Dozens of firefighters early on Sunday clamoured to control the blaze, with four water-dropping planes and two helicopters in operation.

In the northeastern region of Evros, a wildfire was ablaze for a fourth day in Dadia National Park, known for its black vulture colony.

The fire has already destroyed nearly 500 hectares (1,220 acres) of woodland.

More than 300 firefighters battled to control the fire in Evros and by late Saturday the thick smoke forced the evacuation of the village of Dadias.

It was unclear how many people were evacuated.

“The most important thing for us is the safety of the villagers and all forces (which) will be deployed there,” Evros governor Dimitris Petrovits told Athens News Agency.

The fire had already passed the raptor birds observatory and was closing in on the buildings of the protected area management unit.

Petrovits said collecting and treating injured animals was a high priority for the authorities.

In the Peloponnese, a southern peninsula, a fire that broke out early Saturday forced the evacuation of Chrysokelaria village.

By midday on Sunday, firefighters had managed to contain the fire.

A wildfire in mountains near Athens on Wednesday also damaged homes and forced hundreds of people to evacuate after gale-force winds earlier in the week.

Greece’s worst wildfire disaster killed 102 people in 2018 in the coastal suburb of Mati, east of Athens.

The latest fires come after a heatwave and wildfires last year destroyed 103,000 hectares and claimed three lives in Greece.

Fires in parts of France, Spain and Portugal have already burned more land so far this year than was destroyed by flames in all of 2021.

The area, some 517,881 hectares, is equivalent to the size of Trinidad and Tobago.

AFP

Hundreds Evacuated From Greek Resort As Lesbos Fires Rage

Smoke ascends over the village of Vrisa, in the southern part of the Greek island of Lesbos, as the wildfire burns near tourist resorts for the second day, forcing vulnerable residents to flee. (Photo by Anthi PAZIANOU / AFP)

 

 

Hundreds of tourists and residents were evacuated on Saturday from a popular resort on the Greek island of Lesbos as a wildfire destroyed homes in the beachside village of Vatera.

The fires sent up thick clouds of smoke blotting out the sun as they drifted over the sea while blazes raged metres away from homes, forcing people to flee while others tried to protect their houses from the embers.

Greece was facing the first day of a heatwave on Saturday that is expected to last 10 days. Temperatures were set to rise to 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) in some regions, sparking concerns over more wildfires.

The fire on Lesbos island broke out at 10:00 am local time (0700 GMT) on Saturday and is blazing on two fronts, heading towards Vrisa village and another inside Vatera.

Police said 450 people were evacuated from two hotels and 92 houses in Vatera.

The Greek coast guard said earlier it evacuated nine people including five foreigners from a beach in Vatera.

Firefighters deployed seven firefighting planes and a helicopter to fight the surging blaze.

West Lesbos mayor Taxiarchis Verros ordered the evacuation of the busy beach resort as a precautionary measure, acting on the advice of the fire brigade, Athens News Agency reported.

At least two houses were ravaged by the fire, state TV ERT said.

On Saturday, for a third-day firefighters were tackling a wildfire raging in the Dadia National Park, known for its black vulture colony, in the northeastern region of Evros.

Fire brigade spokesman Yiannis Artopoios said on Saturday afternoon that the fire in Dadia was “exceptionally difficult”.

According to ERT TV, the fire was approaching the village of Dadia by late Saturday afternoon.

Some 320 firefighters and 68 fire engines have been battling the fires in Evros, alongside a large number of volunteers.

However, their efforts were hampered by the dense smoke and lack of wind, combined with high humidity during the night, which hindered the effort to fight the fire from the air.

A wildfire in mountains near Athens on Wednesday damaged homes and forced hundreds of people to evacuate after gale-force winds earlier this week.

In the Peloponnese, a fire that broke out near Koroni Saturday morning sparked an evacuation of the Chrysokelaria village early evening.

The country’s worst wildfire disaster was in the coastal suburb of Mati, claiming 102 lives in 2018, close to the area affected by Wednesday’s blaze.

On Saturday, a memorial service was held at the seaside town to commemorate the victims.

A heatwave and wildfires last year destroyed 103,000 hectares (255,000 acres) and claimed three lives in Greece.

Fires in parts of France, Spain and Portugal have already burned more land so far this year than was destroyed by flames in all of 2021.

The area, some 517,881 hectares, is equivalent to the size of Trinidad and Tobago.

Europe Counts Cost Of Heatwave As Spain PM Says More Than 500 Died

Tourists enjoy the beach in Phalasarna, northwest of the Greek mediterranean island of Crete on July 20, 2022, while temperatures remain at normal for the season levels despite the heatwave in northern parts of Europe.  (Photo by Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP)

 

Spain’s prime minister said “more than 500 people died” during a 10-day heatwave as Europe counts the cost of a record period of extreme temperatures.

Climate change protesters warned the scorching weather should be a wake-up call for the continent.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the “climate emergency is a reality”.

Speaking against a backdrop of charred trees and burnt ground in the hard-hit northeastern Zaragoza region, he urged people to take “extreme caution”.

Sanchez cited figures released by the Carlos III Health Institute, which estimates the number of heat-related fatalities based on the number of excess deaths compared to the average in previous years.

The institute has stressed these figures are a statistical estimate and not a record of official deaths.

Meanwhile Greek firefighters gained the upper hand in a battle against a wildfire raging for a second day in mountainside suburbs north of Athens that had forced hundreds of people to flee, an official said.

“For the most part the fire is in decline,” fire department spokesman Yiannis Artopios told reporters.

Greece had been spared the blistering heatwave experienced in western Europe, but flames fanned by high winds were threatening the suburbs of Penteli, Pallini, Anthousa and Gerakas, home to tens of thousands of people.

“The fire was scorching our backs, we left in the nick of time. Had we stayed another 30 seconds it would have burned us,” a Pallini resident who lost his car and shed to the flames told ERT television.

“The civil protection authority was late in alerting us,” he said.

In France, firefighters brought twin blazes near the southwestern city of Bordeaux under control.

Temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) over previous days have spelled misery for millions and shattered heat records.

Cooler air swept in Wednesday, bringing relief to people from Portugal to Britain, but thousands of firefighters continued to tackle blazes that have broken out in multiple countries after months of drought-like conditions.

“Our assessment is generally positive. The situation improved overnight,” French fire service spokesman Arnaud Mendousse told AFP from the southwestern Gironde region where two huge blazes have engulfed 20,600 hectares (50,900 acres) of tinder-dry forest since last week.

– Heat records –

The heatwave saw a new all-time record for Britain where the national weather service clocked 40.3C in eastern England, surpassing the previous high set in 2019.

Grassland fires erupted on Tuesday on the edge of London, with one forcing the evacuation of 14 people as farm buildings, houses and garages were consumed by the flames.

Sixteen firefighters were injured around the capital with two taken to hospital, the London Fire Brigade said.

“Yesterday was the busiest day for the fire service in London since the Second World War,” the city’s mayor Sadiq Khan told Sky News on Wednesday, urging the public to remain vigilant despite temperatures now falling.

Khan also accused Conservative leadership candidates vying to succeed Prime Minister Boris Johnson of ignoring “the elephant in the room” of climate change.

Climate demonstrators triggered a lengthy tailback on Britain’s busiest motorway encircling London on Wednesday as they sought to highlight the need for greater action to reduce greenhouse gases responsible for global heating.

Members of the group Just Stop Oil climbed gantries over the M25 motorway, causing police to intervene.

“This is the moment when climate inaction is truly revealed in all its murderous glory for everyone to see: as an elite-driven death project that will extinguish all life if we let it,” the activist group said in a statement.

AFP

All Eight Crew Killed In Cargo Plane Crash In Greece

A file photo of the Greece flag.

 

All eight crew members of a cargo plane that crashed near the Greek city of Kavala died in the accident, Serbia’s defence minister said on Sunday.

The Ukrainian-operated Antonov An-12 was carrying mines and around 11 tonnes of weapons to Bangladesh when it crashed on Saturday night, minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said.

Videos shared by eyewitnesses on social media showed the plane engulfed by a giant fireball as it hit the ground.

“I think the crew were Ukrainian but I don’t have any information about that. They were not Serbian,” Stefanovic told a news conference.

The plane had taken off from Nis airport in Serbia at around 8:40 pm (1840 GMT) on Saturday, carrying weapons owned by private Serbian company Valir, he said.

Greek media said it had requested clearance to make an emergency landing at Kavala airport but had not managed to reach it.

Greek rescue services were using a drone on Sunday to monitor the wreckage of the aircraft as fears about the toxicity of the cargo were forcing them to keep at a distance.

State-run TV said the army, explosives experts and Greek Atomic Energy Commission staff would approach the crash site once it was deemed safe.

“Men from the fire service with special equipment and measuring instruments approached the point of impact of the aircraft and had a close look at the fuselage and other parts scattered in the fields,” fire brigade official Marios Apostolidis told reporters.

Search teams would go in when the area is deemed secure, he added.

A 13-strong special team from the fire brigade, 26 firemen and seven fire engines were deployed to the area but could not yet approach the crash site, local officials said.

Video footage from a local channel showed signs of impact on a field and the aircraft in pieces scattered over a wide area.

Eyewitnesses said they saw the aircraft on fire and heard explosions.

Toxic fumes

Filippos Anastasiadis, mayor of the nearby town of Paggaio, told Open TV the aircraft had crashed “around two kilometres away from an inhabited area”.

People living within that two-kilometre (1.2-mile) radius of the crash site were asked to stay inside their homes and wear face masks on Saturday night.

Two firemen were taken to a hospital early on Sunday with breathing difficulties because of toxic fumes.

A local man, Giorgos Archontopoulos, told state broadcaster ERT television he had felt something was wrong as soon as he heard the aircraft’s engine.

“At 2245 (1945 GMT) I was surprised by the sound of the engine of the aircraft,” he said. “I went outside and saw the engine on fire.”

The Ukrainian consul in Thessaloniki, Vadim Sabluk, visited the area on Sunday.

Athens News Agency said he had given the authorities the identities of the eight crew members and said the plane had been flying to Bangladesh.

The Serbian defence minister said the weapons shipment had been agreed with the Bangladeshi defence ministry “in accordance with international rules”.

“Unfortunately some media have speculated that the plane was carrying weapons destined for Ukraine but that is completely untrue,” he said.

US Demands Iran Release Seized Tankers, Crew

The Liberian-flagged oil tanker Ice Energy (L) transfers crude oil from the Iranian-flagged oil tanker Lana (R) (former Pegas), off the shore of Karystos, on the Island of Evia, on May 29, 2022. Angelos Tzortzinis / AFP
The Liberian-flagged oil tanker Ice Energy (L) transfers crude oil from the Iranian-flagged oil tanker Lana (R) (former Pegas), off the shore of Karystos, on the Island of Evia, on May 29, 2022. Angelos Tzortzinis / AFP

 

The United States joined Athens on Monday in strongly condemning Iran’s seizure of two Greek-flagged oil tankers in Gulf waters and demanding their immediate release, calling the abductions a “threat to maritime security.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias agreed in a call “that Iran must immediately release the seized vessels, their cargoes, and their crews,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

“Iran’s continued harassment of vessels and interference with navigational rights and freedoms are a threat to maritime security and the global economy,” Price added.

READ ALSO: Around 100 Dead In Clashes Between Chad Gold Miners

“The United States stands with Greece, our key NATO Ally and partner in the face of this unjustified seizure.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the Greek tankers in the Gulf Friday, days after Athens confirmed it would deliver to Washington Iranian oil it had seized from a Russian tanker.

Tehran said Saturday the crews of the two tankers were in “good health” and not under arrest.

The crews — Greece says nine of its citizens are among the ship workers, but has not specified the number of other sailors on board — have remained on board the two tankers.

Greece has condemned Tehran’s seizures as “tantamount to acts of piracy” and warned its citizens not to travel to Iran.

The Revolutionary Guards — the ideological arm of Iran’s military — had said it seized the tankers “due to violations”, without elaborating further.

Greece said one of the tankers had been sailing in international waters, while the second was near the Iranian coast when it was seized.

Athens said Iranian navy helicopters had landed gunmen on the two tankers.

 

AFP

Greece Resumes Search For Ferry Fire Survivors

This handout grab video taken and released by Guardia Costiera on February 18, 2022, shows the liner “Euroferry Olympia” of the Italian company Grimaldi, flying the Italian flag, and carrying 239 passengers and 51 crew members as well as vehicles, which was on fire, for more than four hours.

 

 

Greek firefighters and coastguards said Monday they were resuming the search for 10 people still missing from a ferry fire last week in which a truck driver perished.

Television footage showed smoke still billowing from the Italian-flagged Euroferry Olympia, more than 72 hours after a fire ripped through the vessel as it sailed from Igoumenitsa in Greece to Brindisi in Italy with nearly 300 people aboard.

“It is a very difficult operation,” a fire department spokeswoman told AFP.

More than 40 firefighters were taking part in the search and rescue operation with tugboats and coastguard vessels on standby nearby.

“There is major thermal stress and a lot of smoke,” the spokeswoman said.

Most of the passengers were quickly evacuated, and a 21-year-old Belarussian truck driver emerged alive on Sunday.

But 10 other truck drivers — seven Bulgarians, two Greeks and one Turk — remain unaccounted for.

The body of a 58-year-old Greek truck driver was recovered Sunday, the first confirmed fatality of the accident.

Two of those rescued were Afghans not on the list, sparking fears that more undocumented passengers might also have been on board.

The missing drivers reportedly slept in their vehicles, because cabins on the ferry were unsuitable, according to the Greek truck drivers’ union.

“We had many complaints about living conditions for the drivers,” union chairman Akis Dermatis told Greek public television ERT.

The ferry’s owners, Grimaldi Lines, rejected the accusations, saying in a statement on Sunday that an inspection by the authorities in the port of Igoumenitsa two days before the fire had been “satisfactory”.

The last fire onboard a ship in the Adriatic occurred in December 2014 on the Italian ferry Norman Atlantic, in which 13 people died.

Passenger Found Alive On Ferry Ablaze Off Greece

Smoke rises from the Italian-flagged Euroferry Olympia, which is on fire, on the Greek Ionian island of Corfu, on February 20, 2022, two days after the ship, en route to Brindisi in Italy, caught fire at dawn after leaving the Greek port of Igoumenitsa with 290 people, including 51 crew members registered on board. 
Angelos Tzortzinis / AFP

 

A passenger was on Sunday found alive on a ferry that has been ablaze off Greece for three days, coastguards said, with 11 truck drivers still missing.

Rescuers spotted the man on the stern of the stricken vessel as it was being towed to port.

“Tell me I’m alive,” the 21-year-old truck driver who said he was from Belarus, told rescuers, according to the Proto Thema news website.

Clad in tan shorts and a black t-shirt, he climbed down a ladder into a rescue boat, according to images from the iefimerida news website.

The fire broke out on the Italian-flagged Euroferry Olympia late on Thursday as it sailed from Igoumenitsa in Greece to Brindisi in Italy, with nearly 300 people aboard.

Following the blaze, criticism had mounted over conditions aboard the vessel, which was reported to be carrying fuel and “corrosive dangerous goods.”

Rescuers managed to save 280 passengers on Friday, evacuating them to Corfu, but 12 lorry drivers remained missing.

The man rescued on Sunday was one of those drivers, the coastguards said.

Authorities initially gave the missing as seven from Bulgaria, three from Greece, one from Turkey and one from Lithuania.

On Sunday, they said there was an error and the missing Lithuanian was actually the man saved, who was from Belarus.

The drivers are believed to have been asleep inside their lorries when the blaze broke out.

On Sunday the vessel was being towed toward the Kassiopi inlet near Corfu.

Olympia was carrying an estimated 800 cubic metres of fuel and 23 tons of “corrosive dangerous goods”, according to Italy’s environment ministry which said on Saturday that a “possible spill” was detected after a fly-over by an Italian coastguard aircraft.

 ‘Miserable’ Conditions 

The vessel was officially carrying 239 passengers and 51 crew, as well as 153 trucks and trailers and 32 passenger vehicles, the Grimaldi company has said.

But the coastguard has said two of the 280 people rescued were Afghans not on the manifest, sparking fears that more undocumented passengers could also be missing.

The missing truckers reportedly slept in their vehicles because cabins on the vessel were overcrowded.

Ilias Gerontidakis, the son of a missing Greek trucker, told the Proto Thema online newspaper the Olympia “miserable from every point of view”.

“It had bed bugs, it was dirty, it had no security systems,” he said as he waited at the port for news.

“It had 150 lorries inside. Normally it should have 70 to 75 cabins, but it only has 50. They force us to sleep four people in a cabin”, he said.

“My father, from what I was told, slept in the truck.”

The last shipboard fire in the Adriatic occurred in December 2014 on the Italian ferry Norman Atlantic. Thirteen people died in that blaze.

Eleven Missing In Greece Ferry Fire

This handout grab video taken and released by Guardia Costiera on February 18, 2022, shows the liner “Euroferry Olympia” of the Italian company Grimaldi, flying the Italian flag, and carrying 239 passengers and 51 crew members as well as vehicles, which was on fire, for more than four hours.

 

Eleven people were missing in a fire that engulfed an Italian-flagged ferry in the Ionian Sea, the Greek coastguard said Friday amid efforts to free two more people trapped on board.

Another 278 people had been rescued, the coastguard said, including a migrant whose presence raised fears for more unaccounted-for people on board.

A dozen people remained unaccounted for, according to owners Grimaldi Lines, on the vessel, which was officially carrying 239 passengers and 51 crew as well as 153 trucks and trailers and 32 passenger vehicles.

A migrant stowaway was rescued in addition to those on the ship’s list, raising fears that more undocumented passengers could be on board.

Migrant stowaways frequently sneak onto ferries between Greece and Italy.

Grimaldi Lines said they were alerted at 4:12 am (0212 GMT) to the fire on the Euroferry Olympia, which was heading to Italy from the Greek port city of Igoumenitsa opposite Corfu.

Television images showed the ship enveloped in flames which sent plumes of black smoke into the sky.

“The ship is burning from end to end,” Corfu rescuer Yiorgos Glikofridis told ERT from a vessel near the ferry.

“There is a tremendous amount of smoke and visibility is poor. We see no movement on the deck, only flames,” he said.

A Greek coastguard spokeswoman said it would take several hours to extinguish the fire.

The Bulgarian foreign ministry said there were 127 of its nationals on the passenger list, including 37 truck drivers. Another 24 are from Turkey, Turkey’s NTV station said.

– Stowaway fears –
No fuel spill has been detected at sea, and the ship’s stability does not appear to be compromised, the company said.

“Tugboats have been hired and are heading towards the Euroferry Olympia to give prompt support and manage the emergency,” it said.

“We heard that the fire started in the hold, but it’s not certain,” a Greek man who identified himself as a passenger told Skai TV.

“It took just 15 minutes for the fire to reach the deck,” he said, adding that the mostly Italian crew’s response had been “simply perfect”.

“They were very organised. The crew saved us,” he said.

The cause of the fire off the island of Ereikousa between Greece and Albania, is still unknown.

Greek coastguard patrol and tow boats were rushed to the site and a frigate and two helicopters took part in the rescue operations.

An Italian patrol boat also assisted, and some rescued passengers later told Italian news agency Ansa that the flames were “gigantic” and that panic had ensued.

“The evacuation was not a simple matter,” the patrol boat’s commander told Ansa.

Nikos Bardis, a local fisherman, had earlier told ERT that several fishing boats were also circling the stricken vessel, looking for people in the water.

“We can hear explosions, it must be freight trucks blowing up,” he said.

There is heavy maritime traffic between the western Greek ports of Igoumenitsa and Patras and the Italian ports of Brindisi and Ancona.

The last shipboard fire in the Adriatic occurred in December 2014 on the Italian ferry Norman Atlantic. Thirteen people died in the blaze.

Strong Quake Rocks Northern Greece

A file photo of Greece flag.

A strong 5.4-magnitude earthquake rocked northern Greece on Sunday near the country’s second city of Thessalonika, the National Observatory of Athens said.

The epicentre of the quake, which struck at 1150 GMT, was 23 kilometres (14 miles) south west of Orthodox spiritual centre Mount Athos at a depth of 10 kilometres (six miles), the observatory said.

There were no reports of victims or material damage.

Greece is highly susceptible to tremors, being situated on several geological faultlines.

In October 2020, a quake registering 7.0 struck in the Aegean Sea between the Greek island of Samos and Izmir in western Turkey, which bore the brunt with 114 deaths and more than 1,000 injured. In Greece, two youths died on Samos.