Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Greek Soprano Dimitra Theodossiou Survives Ship Fire

The soprano at a concert in China last May.
Dimitra Theodossiou was a first-class passenger on the Norman Atlantic ferry when she awoke to smoke in her cabin. The opera soprano describes in detail throwing on a sweater, grabbing money, and gathering identification, before making her way to the upper decks of the ship. She was shocked to see men pushing women out of the way to make it to the helicopters rescuing passengers. A fellow passenger also slapped her face to keep her awake waiting for her chance for rescue declaring, "You must not sleep. If you sleep, you die." She was particularly distressed by the lack of no fire alarm on the ship and the fact that not all of the life boats were put in the water. The full account of the tragic event can be found after the jump. Read the full interview with the soprano by clicking here. For videos of the fire and rescue, click here. Read the soprano's complete biography hereListen to a telephone interview, and watch a video tribute to the Greek opera star, below.

Better Days: A photo depicting the passenger ferry pre-disaster

"On 28 December 2014, Norman Atlantic caught fire in the Strait of Otranto, on a ferry run from Patras to Ancona. A fire broke out on the car deck just before 6:00 am local time, half an hour after leaving port of Igoumenitsa, Greece, an intermediate stop, when she was 44 nautical miles (81 km) northwest of the island of
Norman Atlantic: Interior Common Space
Corfu, 33 nautical miles (61 km) northwest of the island of Othonoi. At the time she was carrying 222 vehicles, 411 passengers, and 55 crew (22 Italian, 33 Greek). The heat from the fire permeated the entire ship, even starting to melt people's shoes on the reception deck. The incident happened in Greek territorial waters but with night closing in, the ship started drifting towards Albania. There were gale-force winds and lashing rain. Passengers claim that the order to abandon ship was not given until four hours after the fire had started. Despite their cabins filling with smoke, no alarm had been sounded. They also state that the crew of Norman Atlantic gave them little assistance. One group of 40 managed to escape in a
Norman Atlantic: Dining Room
lifeboat, but others were prevented from doing so as the lifeboats were damaged or destroyed by the fire. Survivors described "scenes from hell" on board the burning ship, with the ship's crew overhelmed by the crisis and jungle law prevailing rather than an orderly evacuation. An international rescue effort, led and coordinated by the Italian Coast Guard, was started to evacuate the 466 passengers and crew aboard. Greek Defence Minister Nikos Dendias stated that Italian authorities had responded to a Greek request for assistance and that the Italian Coast Guard had assumed control of the rescue operation. The rescue operation was being coordinated from the Italian ship Cruise Europa. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said that first passengers were rescued by a helicopter and that his government was working with the Greek government. As darkness fell on
Norman Atlantic: Sleeping Cabin
28 December, the Italian Navy said that a tugboat, the Marietta Barretta, had finally been able to attach a line to the ferry. Greek Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis confirmed the towing operation but said he did not know the destination of the tugboat; although Albania was 'much closer', he said the final decision rested with the Italian rescuers who 'know the situation better'. Prime Minister Renzi informed reporters that the ferry was evacuated and that Captain Giacomazzi was the last one to leave the ship at 2.50pm. Ten people were killed, and at least eight were injured. Officials stated that one person died after jumping from the burning ship. A 62-year-old Greek man was the first of the fatalities to be recovered. Only 427 of the 478 people listed in the ship's manifest to have been on board were rescued. As of 29 December 2014, Norman Atlantic is under tow to Brindisi, Italy. On 30 December two Albanian tug-boat operatives were reported to have been killed when a connecting cable snapped." 

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