2 Albanian sailors killed during ferry operation

In this image released by the Italian Navy, smoke billows from the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic that caught fire in the Adriatic Sea, Monday, Dec. 29, 2014. Fighting high winds and stormy seas, helicopter rescue crews on Monday evacuated the last of hundreds of people trapped aboard a Greek ferry that caught fire off Albania. The death toll climbed to eight as survivors told of a frantic rush to escape the flames and pelting rain. The evacuation of the ferry was completed in the early afternoon with the rescue of 427 people, including 56 crew members, said Italy's transport minister, Maurizio Lupi. The original ferry manifest listed 422 passengers and 56 crew members, but Lupi said it was premature to speculate on whether people were still missing. He suggested that there might have been some people who reserved a spot on the ferry but did not board. (AP Photo/Italian Navy, ho)

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Two Albanian tugboat sailors died Tuesday during operations to secure a Greek ferry adrift for three days since a fire broke out on a car deck, with 10 people killed in the ensuing chaos.

The sailors were apparently hit by a line that they had been trying to attach to the crippled, fire-blackened Norman Atlantic, said Dionis Dulaj, the police spokesman in the Albanian port town of Vlore, closest to where the 186-meter (610-foot) -long ferry has been drifting.

Defense Ministry spokeswoman Edlira Prendi announced the deaths. One man had quickly been confirmed dead while a medical team had worked on the second but could not save him.

A Dutch salvage company, Rotterdam-based Smit Salvage, was overseeing the operations to secure the Norman Atlantic after completion Monday of the rescue of 427 people, including 56 crew. One lifeboat was deployed, but most of those on the ferry were transported by helicopters to safety in an all-night operation amid high winds and pelting rains.

Martijn Schuttevaer, a spokesman for Smit’s parent company Royal Boskalis Smit, 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 was not clear if that was the operation underway when the Albanian sailors were struck.

Schuttevaer said crews were also going through the vessel to extinguish any remaining fire. “There is still smoke,” he said.

No decision has yet been made on where to bring the vessel.

The Italian Navy, meanwhile, says the search for possible missing passengers from the Greek ferry fire is continuing. Authorities say discrepancies in the ferry’s manifest make it impossible to know how many people, if any, may still be missing.

A ship carrying 39 survivors was headed to the southern Italian port of Manfredonia, but a town official told Sky TG24 that it may be diverted further north due to the weather. The survivors include five children and three people who are injured.

____

Barry reported from Milan. Elena Becatoros and Derek Gatopoulos contributed from Athens, Greece.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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