Tirana: Italian prosecutors on Tuesday ordered the crippled Greek ferry Norman Atlantic back to Italy as part of a criminal investigation, saying they fear more bodies will be found aboard the vessel when it is properly searched.
The fire-tinged vessel was adrift for a third day off the Albanian coast, where two sailors were killed earlier today when a tow line being deployed apparently snapped, according to Albanian officials.
More than 400 people were rescued from the ferry, most in daring helicopter sorties that persisted despite high winds and seas, after a fire broke out before dawn Sunday on a car deck. Both Italian and Greek authorities have announced criminal investigations into the cause of the blaze.
Ten people were killed in the chaos that ensued, including a Greek man who died trying to get into a life raft and three Italians, whose circumstances of death haven't been released.
Italian prosecutors have secured jurisdiction over the case from Albanian judicial authorities, citing the ship's Italian owner and Italian captain.
Bari prosecutor Giuseppe Volpe, who ordered the ferry back to the Italian port of Brindisi, said it was likely that other bodies will be found in the cargo areas of the ferry once searched, given that there was "incontrovertible" evidence that migrants were stowed away onboard. Two Afghans and a Syrian were among the 49 who disembarked in Bari yesterday morning, one of whom had already asked for political asylum, he said.
"Our fear is that unfortunately once the wreck is recovered, we'll find other dead people on board," he said.
The search for possible missing people continued in the seas off Albania amid ongoing confusion over how many passengers were on board. An Italian ship with about 180 survivors on board remained in the vicinity assisting in the search, the Italian Navy said.
Salvage companies were working to secure tow lines to begin moving the ferry, but were hampered by high winds and seas.
Italian judicial authorities have enlisted the Italian tug company, Barretta, to take charge of bringing the Norman Atlantic ferry to Brindisi. No timeframe was given, but Barretta said it could arrive within a day.
Besides Barretta, the ship owner's insurance company has contracted the Dutch salvage firm Titan to secure the wreck.
Smit spokesman Martijn Schuttevaer said one line was connected by early Tuesday and that the priority was to get a heavier tow line connection, aided by the arrival of larger tugs. It wasn't clear if that was the operation underway when the Albanian sailors were struck.