No one ever expects to deal with a disaster or tragedy while on vacation or when traveling during the holidays. But that’s exactly what happened when a fire broke out on a ferry carrying 478 people from Greece to Italy on Sunday. One person is reported dead, as Italian and Greek helicopter rescue crews work to airlift passengers from the still-burning Italian boat called the Norman Atlantic. One hundred and fifty were reportedly rescued earlier in the day.
"We are making superhuman efforts in this extremely difficult operation," Greek coastguard spokesman Nikos Lagkadianos said. "Operations by air will continue throughout the night.”
Unfortunately, it’s not the first time such disaster has struck. Most recently, a ferry sank off the coast of Bangladesh on Aug. 4 due to overcrowding. On board the M.V. Pinak were more than 200 passengers — many of them making their way home after celebrating the end of Ramadan.
Ferry accidents are all too common, and traveling on the seas is a risky business. Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Indonesia have the worst safety records in the world. Since 1977, more than 4,000 people traveling on the Bangladesh rivers have perished.
But places like “St. John, going from the Almafi Coast to Capri, the Greek islands – these are all place where there is no other option but to take a ferry,” says Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel Inc in NYC. Case in point – the Norman Atlantic.
“There are five main causes for these accidents,” says Roberta Weisbrod, executive director of the Worldwide Ferry Safety Association. “Overcrowding or overloading; poor quality vessels, many of which are second hand or refurbished; governments that should be inspecting but don’t have enough inspectors; sudden hazardous weather; and the final one is training.”
It is not yet clear what caused the Norman Atlantic to catch fire.
“The greatest way to ensure your safety is to plan and do research before you go,” says Wetty. “You don’t want to show up randomly somewhere to take a boat ride.” Weisbrod adds that quality hotels that offer excursions tend to work with ferry companies that are legit and have good safety ratings.
The silver lining is that things seem to be changing for the better when it comes to ferry safety. In the case of the Pinak, the owner and captain have been both been charged with murder. “That’s a good sign,” says Weisbrod. “When you have accountability — it brings change.”
Here are some of the locations that have experienced bad crashes over the years.