Ferry Fire Leaves Nearly 300 Passengers, Crew Scrambling to Safety

A fire broke out on Friday on a ferry sailing from Greece to Italy, forcing the evacuation of the 290 people on board, according to local authorities.

The Euroferry Olympia caught fire near the island of Corfu at 4:12 a.m. local time (9:12 p.m. EST on Thursday) after setting out from the Greek city of Igoumenitsa, Grimaldi Group said in a news release. It was on its way to the Italian port of Brindisi, a nine-hour voyage across the Ionian Sea.

Videos and images circulating on social media showed the passenger ship engulfed in flames, surrounded by plumes of smoke.

The company said 239 passengers of various nationalities and 51 Greek and Italian crew members were on board the ferry, which is part of the fleet of the Grimaldi Lines group. All were evacuated to rescue vessels, Kostas Katsafados, the Greek secretary of state for the merchant navy, told Greek radio station Skai.

"The captain of the Euroferry Olympia asked the passengers to leave the boat," police said.

The ferry left Igoumenitsa at 1:20 a.m. local time and was scheduled to arrive in Brindisi at 9:00 a.m.

Euroferry Olympia, built in 1995, has a capacity of 560 passengers, and 73 cabins.

At one point, at least two people were trapped on the ship, according to the Greek Reporter.

A 42-year-old crew member was reportedly injured in the incident, a coast guard official told AFP.

He was reportedly filmed on television being assisted by firefighters on to a coast guard patrol boat as he struggled to walk. He was hospitalized with breathing difficulties in Corfu, according to local news outlets.

Grimaldi's news release did not mention any injuries.

The Euroferry Olympia,
Videos on social media showed the passenger ship in flames, surrounded by plumes of smoke. All 290 people on board the Euroferry Olympia were evacuated, officials said. DEBATER.GR/Associated Press

"The passengers of the cruise ship were transferred safe and sound on rescue boats to Corfu," Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou, the regional governor of the Ionian Islands, told Greek public broadcaster ERT television, according to AFP.

Based on preliminary information, the evacuated passengers and crew were rescued by a vessel from Italy's Guardia di Finanza police unit and a boat from the Greek Coast Guard that were in the area, Grimaldi Group said.

The cause of the fire is unknown and is under investigation.

The fire reportedly broke out on the ship's third deck, the company said.

"Damage is severe because despite the efforts the crew was unable to extinguish the fire," a spokesman for the group told Reuters.

The stability of the ship does not appear to be compromised, however, and no fuel spill had been detected at sea, Grimaldi Group told Newsweek in an emailed statement.

The incident is one of several fires to affect Grimaldi Lines vessels in recent years.

In May 2019, 15 crew members were evacuated by helicopter from the roll-on/roll-off (ro/ro) vehicle carrier Grande Europe after it caught fire near Palma de Mallorca.

No injuries were reported in that incident, and preliminary investigations showed that there were two separate fires, both of which broke out in vehicles stowed on board.

The incident prompted the Grimaldi Group to call for tighter cargo controls.

"Following the umpteenth case of a fire that broke out on vehicles transported by cargo vessels, the Grimaldi Group launches an appeal to introduce more stringent controls and regulations on cargo sea transport, not only for rolling units but also for containers," Grimaldi Group said at the time.

"Notably, with reference to rolling freight, the Grimaldi Group requests that there be more controls on car batteries, which often cause short-circuits on board vessels, as well as in port terminals. Moreover, it calls for the total prohibition of the presence of personal effects in second-hand vehicles, embarked on ro/ro vessels.

"Finally, with regard to containers, the International Maritime Organization is urged to make mandatory the certification by a classification society of the correct stuffing (loading) of containers carrying dangerous goods," the group said.

Update 02/18/22, 8:06 a.m. ET: This article was updated with information from the Grimaldi Group.

Tourists ferry from Olbia to Livorno
A Grimaldi ferry arrives at Olbia Port on July 08, 2020 in Olbia, Italy. The Olbia Livorno ferry route connects Sardinia with Italy and is operated by two ferry companies, the Moby Lines and the Grimaldi Lines. A fire broke out on Friday on a ferry sailing from Greece to Italy through the Ionian Sea with 290 people on board, according to local authorities. Max Cavallari/Getty Images