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Twelve missing after fire sweeps ferry on voyage from Greece to Italy

Smoke pours from the stricken vessel as a fireboat attempts to douse the two-day inferno.Photo: AAP
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Firefighters continue to battle an inferno on a ferry that was swept by flames as it it transited the Ionian Sea on a voyage from Greece to Italy.

Grave fears are held for 12 passengers and crew listed as missing after the flaming hulk was towed close to the island of Corfu, where the 280 people rescued from the vessel were met by police and medical workers.

Footage showed plumes of smoke pouring from the Italian-flagged Euroferry Olympia as firefighters from a nearby vessel sprayed water onto the burning hulk.

A total of 241 passengers and 51 crew are known to have been on board when the blaze broke out early on Friday.

The 183-metre ferry burst into flames en route from Igoumenitsa, a port in Western Greece, to the Italian port of Brindisi, normally a nine-hour journey.

The missing passengers are from Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and Lithuania, the Greek coastguard said, and their relatives faced an agonising wait for news.

“I’m very worried. I don’t know what will happen,” Ilias Gerontidakis, the son of a missing Greek truck driver, told state television from Corfu.

Aerial footage released by the Greek coastguard on Friday showed rows of burnt trucks on the blackened deck after flames engulfed the ship, owned by Grimaldi Lines.

The ferry was carrying 153 vehicles, the company said.

Unquenchable flames

As firefighters tried to cool scorching temperatures on the ship before emergency crews boarded it to resume search operations, the blazing ferry was towed closer to the shore for better protection against adverse weather.

Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry said 127 Bulgarians were on board.

Most of those rescued were taken to hotels on Corfu.

Consular staff from the passengers’ home countries were in Corfu to help coordinate their safe return with the ferry company, a witness said.

A prosecutor has ordered an inquiry into the incident, the Greek coastguard said, adding that the captain and both first mates of the ship had been briefly detained to testify and were later released.

Authorities will have more evidence about the cause of the fire once the ship is tugged to a safe place, Shipping Minister Giannis Plakiotakis told Skai television.

-AAP