Greece and Italy have issued widely different figures for how many people are still not accounted for in the ferry fire that killed at least 11 people in the Adriatic Sea.
The numbers ranged from as many as 98, according to Italian prosecutor Giuseppe Volpe, to 18, according to the Greek Merchant Marine Ministry. Greece says Italy’s list is full of duplications and misspellings but the discrepancy could not be immediately explained since the prosecutor’s office was closed for the New Year holiday.
A tug began towing the fire-ravaged ferry across wind-whipped seas to Italy on Thursday afternoon. Giuseppe Barretta, owner of the tug boat company, told The Associated Press the operation started near the coast of Albania, where the Norman Atlantic ferry had been stranded after Sunday’s pre-dawn fire, and estimated it could take 15 hours, depending on weather.
Earlier, the Italian Coast Guard said waves in the region were as high as 5 meters (16 1/2 feet) and winds were blowing at more than 40 knots (46 mph).
Once the ferry arrives in the Italian port of Brindisi, Italian authorities will inspect it, searching for any other possible bodies.
“We’ll only have an exact number (of victims) when the wreckage can be inspected,” said Cmdr. Floriana Segreto of the Italian Coast Guard. A sea-and-air search of the water around the ship continued as the ferry was being secured for towing, she said.
The Italian Coast Guard said 477 people were rescued from the ferry. That figure, plus the 11 dead, would mean at least 488 people had been onboard.
That’s more than the 474 people Greek officials said were on the register — leading to questions about Italy’s rescue tally or suggestions the ferry also carried an unknown number of unregistered migrants.
Italy rescued or discovered some 170,000 migrants and asylum seekers at sea last year as they tried to slip into Europe.
The Norman Atlantic’s captain made his first comments to reporters Thursday outside his home near La Spezia, in northwestern Italy. Capt. Argilio Giacomazzi has been praised for being, in line with navigation rules, the last to be evacuated from the stricken ferry.
“Heroes are useless. We must think about those not with us anymore, those who died,” Giacomazzi said. “We did our best with the help of God. We did our best.”
The ferry captain was questioned about the fire and the evacuation for more than five hours Wednesday by Bari prosecutors but he has given no details on that.