Rome/Athens: Rescue teams on Monday completed the evacuation of nearly 500 people from a car ferry that caught fire off Greece`s Adriatic coast, working through the night and defying high seas and freezing weather in a 36-hour drama.
But eight people were killed in the incident, the Italian coastguard said.
The fire broke out on a vehicle deck of the Norman Atlantic ferry, which was carrying 478 passengers and crew and more than 200 vehicles, early on Sunday. Rescue efforts were immediately complicated by bad weather.
Italian and Greek helicopters began airlifting passengers from the upper deck as the ferry drifted in rough seas between Greece and Italy on Sunday afternoon, continuing the operation throughout the night.
The Italian captain, Argilio Giacomazzi, abandoned the ship once all others had been evacuated, the Italian coastguard said.
A medical team and a flight operator had boarded the vessel to assist the passengers and crew during the rescue, the Italian navy said. Its San Giorgio amphibious transport ship coordinated the rescue operation.
A merchant ship carrying a reported 49 of the ferry passengers, including four children, arrived in the southern Italian port of Bari early on Monday.
Bad weather hampered efforts overnight to attach cables to the ferry for towing, and a tug boat is expected to reach the ship to make another attempt on Monday, Greece`s shipping minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis told Skai TV.
It was not yet clear whether the tug boat had succeeded in latching onto the Norman Atlantic, nor where it would be taken afterward, an official told Reuters. Some expected it would be towed to the Italian port of Brindisi.
The Italian-flagged ferry, chartered by Greek ferry operator Anek Lines, was sailing between Patros in western Greece to Ancona in Italy.
Officials said most of the passengers were Greek but the passenger list included names from several other countries including Germany, Italy, Austria, Turkey, France and the Netherlands. Many appeared to be truck drivers.
The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, speaking at a year-end news conference in Rome, praised the work of the Italian-led rescue effort, which he said had helped avoid a "massacre".