ATHENS — Rescuers exploring the charred hull of a passenger ferry that caught fire off the Greek island of Corfu this month have recovered eight bodies and were searching on Saturday for another three, Greek authorities have said.
A total of 281 people were rescued from the Italian-owned Euroferry Olympia after the fire broke out in the early hours of Feb. 18, a few hours after the vessel left the northwestern Greek port of Igoumenitsa, bound for Brindisi, Italy.
Most of those aboard the ferry were rescued by the Greek Coast Guard, aided by the Italian authorities, in the first few hours after the fire broke out. Another two passengers were rescued by helicopter later in the day, and a third managed to reach the deck after being trapped in the vessel’s bottom-level garage for more than 50 hours.
“The search is continuing,” a spokesman for the Greek Coast Guard, Nikolaos Alexiou, said Saturday morning. The ship’s ramp remained stuck shut, he noted, which had limited rescuers’ access to the garages. “We’re going to resume efforts to open it today,” he said.
The stricken ferry was towed on Wednesday to the large port of Astakos, in western Greece, where search efforts intensified, according to a spokesman for Greece’s fire service, Vassilis Vathrakoyiannis. He said it was difficult to say exactly when the fire was extinguished, and that high temperatures, exceeding 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit, or 600 degrees Celsius, had remained an obstacle during much of the work. “Those hot spots can reignite the fire at any moment,” he said.
Videos posted by Greek news websites this past week showed the devastation caused by the blaze, with Greek fire service rescuers walking through the charred remains of trucks amid plumes of thick black smoke.
Last Sunday, members of the Greek fire service’s special disaster unit found the body of a Greek man in the cabin of a truck in one of the ferry’s three garages. Another body was found on Wednesday and six more on Thursday and Friday. At least three more people are believed to be missing.
According to the shipowner, Grimaldi Lines, the vessel had 153 trucks and 32 cars aboard.
A Greek Shipping Ministry official said all eight bodies were found in the garages, and that so far two had been identified, both Greek truck drivers. Nine more names on the passenger list have yet to be matched with either a survivor or a body. All are truck drivers: one Greek, seven Bulgarian and one Turkish.
However, as two of the 281 people rescued were Afghan citizens who were not on the list, officials have not ruled out that more undocumented passengers might have been on board.
The level of devastation, Mr. Vathrakoyiannis of the fire service said, was such that “some bodies might never be found.”
The cause of the fire has yet to be determined, though Greek authorities have indicated that it started in one of the vessel’s three garages, as many of the surviving passengers have testified.
It is not uncommon for truck drivers to sleep in their vehicles during overnight ferry crossings instead of in ship cabins. The tragedy has reinvigorated debate about the need for stricter inspections to curb this practice.