The death toll from a ferry disaster in the Adriatic has risen to 10, with dozens of passengers still unaccounted for.
The Norman Atlantic had 478 people on board when it caught fire on Sunday off the Greek island of Corfu as it was heading for the Italian port of Ancona.
The fire disabled the ship and a towing attempt failed when the rope broke, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported.
The Italian navy is continuing to search for bodies around the stricken ferry, which remains in waters close to Albania.
“The rescue operation is one of the most complicated to date because of the rough seas, heavy rain and gale-force winds,” Greek Merchant Marine Minister Miltiades Varvisiotis said of the rescue mission that lasted about 36 hours.
One person died on Sunday after he jumped in the sea.
Seven more people were declared dead on Monday.
Passengers said the evacuation had been chaotic and complained that lifeboats available on the ship were not sufficient.
‘We burn like mice’
“Many of the passengers had managed to make their way to the top deck and onto the bridge,” passenger Rania Firaiou told Greek private broadcaster Mega.
“There are several cargo ships and vessels around us, but the waves and rain are making it difficult for them to approach the ship,” said Firaiou.
Another passenger told Mega the heat was so intense that shoes had started to melt.
“We will burn like mice,” a passenger who gave his name as Nikos told Greek radio station Skai.
Smoke continued to bellow from below decks even after the fire was brought under control.
Criminal investigation opened
Prosecutors in the Italian port of Bari have opened a criminal investigation into how the car ferry caught fire at sea.
Bari prosecutor Giuseppe Volpe announced an inquiry to examine whether negligence contributed to the disaster.
The fire was believed to have started at dawn in the garage of the ship, which was 55 kilometres off the north coast of the island of Corfu when it sent its first distress signal.
Marine traffic websites then indicated it had moved a few dozen kilometres further northwest.
The Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic, which belongs to Greek ferry line ANEK, was en route to Ancona from the Greek port of Patras.
The Italian navy vessel San Giorgio took command of the operation late on Sunday.
Greek and Italian helicopters and rescue vessels were also in the area, as well as the passenger ship Europa Cruise.