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Georgians stranded on burning ferry in Adriatic Sea

By Tea Mariamidze
Tuesday, December 30
Five Georgian citizens were evacuated from a ferry, which caught fire near the Greek island of Corfu early on December 29, but three Georgians and more than 200 passengers still remain on the burning ship.

Greek, Italian and Albanian rescuers were trying to save 423 passengers and 55 crew members throughout the night, after the Italian-flagged Normand Atlantic burned and began to list to one side. At least 200 people were reported to be safely aboard rescue boats, leaving hundreds still on the ship.

According to the Georgian Ambassador to Italy Kakha Sikharulidze, three Georgian citizens remain on the ship.

Sikharulidze said one of the Georgians was the head of a Georgian Monastery in Mtskheta, father Ilia Kartozia. The identities of the other two passengers have not been revealed yet.

However, someone familiar with the father told Georgia’s Frontnews on December 29 that Ilia Kartozia had been found alive. According to him, “Father Ilia Kartozia was on board and his life was not in danger”.

The blaze on board the Norman Atlantic, which was travelling from Patras in Greece to Ancona in Italy, reportedly started on the ferry's car deck before spreading.

Most of those on board were Greek. Others came from Italy, Turkey, Albania, Germany, Georgia (7 Georgian citizens) and many other countries, officials said, according to BBC.

Passengers described panicking as the heat rose, then freezing as they stood on decks awaiting rescue.

Helicopters have been winching people to safety.

According to the BBC, most have been transferred to nearby ships, although some have been taken directly to hospital for treatment for hypothermia. It is not yet clear what may have caused the fire.

The chief executive of the Visentini group that owns the vessel, Carlo Visentini, said the ferry had passed a recent technical inspection despite a "slight malfunction" of one of the fire doors, Italy's Ansa news agency reports.

"The tests confirmed that the boat was in full working order," he said, adding that the fire door had been repaired "to the satisfaction of the inspectors".

Ferries are an important mode of transport between Greece's hundreds of islands as well as neighboring countries.