Members of the crew of an Italian ferry which caught fire at sea may have fled the ship before passengers, a British showjumper who survived the disaster has claimed.
Nick Channing-Williams was on board the Norman Atlantic, an Italian-flagged vessel chartered by Greek shipping company Anek Lines, when a fire broke out on a car deck, claiming the lives of at least 10 people.
The 37-year-old, who has now returned home in Berkshire, said he and a group of other passengers attempted to connect tow ropes from a tug boat to the ferry when the crew were nowhere to be found. WORDS: PA
He told The Times: "There were no crew members down there - it was just us. I couldn't work that out. From what I understood, some of the crew members bailed out at the beginning."
Mr Channing-Williams, who was later reunited with his Greek fiancee Regina Theoffili after they were rescued separately from the blazing vessel, also claimed some crew members had "got off with the first lifeboats".
He said: "There were so many women and children left on the boat. Why were they not the first in line to get on the lifeboat? It was just chaos. And I think there should be a few people with their heads a bit low.
"From what I understood, the ropes on board the ship were not good enough to tow it. They (the crew on the bridge) were screaming at us 'quicker, quicker'. Regina was getting very frustrated with them. She was like 'why don't you go down there?'"
But a spokesman for Anek Lines told the paper: "It is too early now to deal with responsibilities about the accident. I don't have any evidence that the crew left before the passengers."
The blaze broke out on the car deck on Sunday while the ferry was travelling from the Greek port of Patras to Ancona in Italy.
The fire caused thick, acrid smoke to fill cabins, waking passengers on the overnight ferry and in the chaos that followed, passengers reported receiving virtually no instructions from the crew.
The principle of women and children first appeared to go out of the window, and passengers started pushing and shoving and came to blows over seats in the lifeboats and helicopter baskets.
There is also confusion over the numbers of people on board, prompting fears from Italian prosecutors that more bodies may be found once the ship is recovered from the Adriatic Sea.
The names of some survivors were not on the manifest and some passengers listed might not have boarded, officials said. A total of 427 people were rescued, while Anek Lines said there were 475 on board.
In an inspection just days before the disaster, the ship was found to have failings with fire safety and its plans for how to handle passengers in the event of an emergency.
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