Norman Atlantic, en route from Patras to Ancona on December 28th, was engulfed in smoke and flame. Rescue for passengers and crew was slow and difficult in rough seas with Greek and Italian helicopters struggling to lift small numbers at a time and was not completed for over 30 hours.
The fire seems to have broken out on a vehicle deck where over 200 cars and trucks were garaged. If there is a saving grace, it is that the passenger and crew numbering 478 could have been much higher at over 800 when the possible death toll could have been dreadful.
As it is, there are concerns that the numbers listed as being aboard and those rescued do not tally. There are people saved who were not on the manifest and that can only mean there may well be people aboard not accounted for. Also illegal immigrants might have been aboard – and could that be how the fire started?
The official death toll, as I write, stands at 11 but it could be much higher. The tragedy was compounded by two Albanian tug men being killed by towing gear when attempting to move the hulk which was eventually towed into Brindisi.
The much chartered Norman Atlantic, 26,904,’09 is one of over 20 Visentini designs in service. She is Italian flag and was only recently chartered to the Greek company Anek and is still bearing her LD Lines charter name when she served St Nazaire-Gijon.
Now the investigation will begin to review how the fire started, how the crew handled it and how the rescue service performed. It is also very hard to suggest how such a fire could be contained once it had taken hold amongst fuel and gear laden vehicles. There will be much to learn from this tragedy.