Exactly two years ago, on December the 28th 2014, the NORMAN ATLANTIC ferry, property of the Italian shipowner VISEMAR and rented by the Greek company ANEK LINES, departed from Greece and directed to Ancona, caught fire in the middle of the night off the Albanian coast, and in short time went drifting off the Adriatic sea, in a storm of six meters waves and force 8 wind, with almost 500 people on board and overrun with cars, trucks and Tir carrying goods from Greece to Italy, especially olive oil, which would then fuel the flames for days. The origins of the fire are still under investigation, via a procedure of recording evidence that, as required by the Public Prosecutor of Bari, will have to verify not only the evolution of the shipping incident, but also, and above all, the possible Crew responsibilities in emergency management on board, and the companies ones for malfunctions, as it seemed clear from the start, that the latter turned the fire – started from the deck 4 of the ship, in a real holocaust for dozens of people, 10 dead and over 19 missing, imprisoning the rest of the survivors on the top and outside deck of the ship, drifting inexorably and internally devoured by flames, and to be recovered only by helicopter and transferred one by one. A difficult rescue operation because of adverse weather and sea conditions, and that, despite having involved over 20 merchant and naval ships of different nationalities and several rescue helicopters, lasted for more than two days – an infinite time for those caught between the grip of toxic smokes, flames, incandescent floors and the icy cold of the water jets – sprayed continuously by emergency ships. The very few who managed to take their seats on lifeboats or reach the floating boat dropped overboard, lived an experience of terror and horror, even worse than those who remained trapped on the burning ferry.
No fire alarm was issued, no warning from the crew, and the passengers awoke at night between coulters of smoke and panic scenes. A panic which released – in many – the worst in human race. The first to abandon ship were some of the crew, dropping quickly the only usable lifeboat, with just a third of its precious capacity of persons. During the retrieve of the passengers using the baskets lowered from helicopters, others have literally attacked the rescuers, with bites and punches, just to be saved first, others refused to leave priority to women and children. Some people threw himself into the water to escape the flames, and was quickly swallowed by the waves of the icy December sea. Some bodies of drowned victims were found after days, torn apart by evident shark bites. Nearly twenty people are missing, but the count of those missing is certainly more serious, considering the presence on board of many illegal immigrants.
In the tragedy – however – there were also scenes of altruism and heroism, as in the case of the Orthodox priest who generously helped many shipwrecked persons to climb the dangerous rope ladder thrown by the rescue ship to the lifeboat on which they stood, leaving the way to all families before falling into the sea and get lost forever; or the greek doctor, who still works in Italy, which remained on board the ferry up until the end, providing his assistance to fellow sufferers, or like some truck drivers who, at great personal risk, managed to hook the towing tugs cable to the Norman Atlantic.
A horror lived in long and intense measure, in extreme psychophysical and weather conditions, which left indelible marks inside all people escaped from death, diagnosed in terms of “post-traumatic stress disorder“, studied for the first time in World War I and Vietnam veterans, and then ascertained as a psychological pathology, typical of disaster survivors, as in the case of the collapse of the twin towers.
After two years we are still waiting for the closing stage of the preliminary investigation by the magistracy and experts appointed by the Criminal Court of Bari. A report that will hopefully shed some light on the many shadows that since the beginning we have emphasized, with regard to ship-owners, the carrier, crew, those who certified the ship but also – and above all – in the maritime great transportation system, where the law of profit – too often – seems to prevail over the safety rules and accident prevention.
Our team “Giustizia per Norman Atlantic” has represented so far about fifty people whose lives were devastated in various ways in the shipping incident, as passengers or as family members of victims or missing. Since the early days we were involved because of our experience in maritime disasters such as the sinking of the “Concordia” and “Jolly Nero“, and directly in the forefront we have provided (in person) assistance for immediate needs and to return home several families, support in the investigations on the DNA for the possible identification of missing persons, aid for the recover of the vehicles following the withdrawal of the vessel seizure (a year and a half after the accident), and then starting – on one hand – filing about 50 complaints and an intense work of investigations in the criminal proceedings – through our consultants and accessing the ship, and – on the other side – opening the negotiations with Anek & Visemar lawyers, in order to achieve a fair and honorable compensation in favor of our clients. Continua a leggere