Almost two weeks after the deadly fire broke out on a car deck of ferry NORMAN ATLANTIC, high temperatures and thick smoke still prevent investigators from entering the lower decks of the vessel. Eleven passengers have been confirmed dead, whilst two Albanian sailors were killed during the towing operations of the vessel to the Italian port of Brindisi. Some 15 passengers remain unaccounted for, nine of which are Greek. Investigators fear they could find more victims in the vehicle decks of the ferry. Six people, the captain, three crew members, the legal representatives of the ship’s operator and owners, are under investigation by the Italian Court Authorities for multiple manslaughter and causing a ship disaster.

The Public Prosecutor of the Greek Supreme Court has ordered that a preliminary investigation is carried out by the Central Harbor Police of Piraeus, to determine whether there was a criminal act of (a) disruption of sea transport resulting to loss of life and placing human lives in risk, and/or (b) arson. The Piraeus port authorities shall examine and investigate the vessel’s inspections and its compliance with international regulations concerning protection against fire and life saving means. On January 3, 2015, investigators of the Hellenic Bureau for Marine Casualties Investigation (HBMCI) were dispatched to Brindisi for a joint safety investigation with the respective Safety Investigation Authority of Italy. On January 6, 2015 an officer of the Hellenic Fire Service was dispatched to Brindisi, following a request of HBMCI, for assisting the investigation.

NORMAN ATLANTIC was towed to the port of Brindisi on January 2, 2015, where she remains until now. The Italian investigation authorities are exploring the possibility of further towing the ferry to the Italian port of Bari, as this would facilitate the investigation of the maritime tragedy. Today Italian and Greek officials decided not to proceed with the use of liquid nitrogen for the reduction of the temperature inside the ferry, but instead proceed by spraying nebulised water inside the burning wreckage of NORMAN ATLANTIC.  Operations are to begin on Friday morning, in hope that on Saturday firefighters and investigators will manage to enter the main garage of the ferry and commence a thorough investigation for identifying any dead bodies as it is feared that some of the still missing passengers, and especially truck drivers, might had been trapped in their vehicles after the fire broke out.

PAVLAKIS – MOSCHOS & ASSOCIATES being a law firm with long experience in handling maritime casualty cases, representing victims as well families of deceased persons in passenger (e.g. EXPRESS SAMINA, SEA DIAMOND) and trade-ship (e.g. AEGEAN WIND, KEPHI, LYMPERIOS, KARAM I) maritime tragedies, and being a member of a group of lawyers who have handled maritime accidents around the globe (e.g. COSTA CONCORDIA), have already been retained by survivors as well as by families of deceased and missing persons of the NORMAN ATLANTIC maritime tragedy. Members of our firm have already visited Brindisi and Bari, and in cooperation with Italian lawyers are monitoring the investigation process.

The facts and information that come to light day by day on this tragic incident, do not seem to leave much doubt that the deadly accident of NORMAN ATLANTIC has been the result of serious breaches of maritime safety regulations concerning the vessel itself as well as the safety of those onboard. Both passengers and crew members of NORMAN ATLANTIC who survived the accident, as well as the families of those who lost their lives in this tragic accident or are still unaccounted have considerable rights for compensation, not only for their monetary damage, but also, and primarily for their moral damage and psychological distress on the basis of national and international legislation (Regulation (EC) 392/2009, Athens Convention etc.)*. Passengers and crew members of NORMAN ATLANTIC are strongly advised to refrain from signing at this stage any documents regarding liability or compensation that may be handed over to them by the shipowners, ship-managers, their agents as well as their insurers, including the P&I Club, before getting proper legal advice be specialized lawyers.

Passengers and crew members of NORMAN ATLANTIC, as well as the relatives of passengers who lost their lives or are still unaccounted, should as soon as practicable get independent legal advice by lawyers specialized in personal injury claims and maritime accidents, so as to ensure that their interests and rights for compensation are fully and duly protected. It is advisable that the victims of the maritime tragedy enlist from this early stage all tangible property that they lost during the accident and collect all available documents and evidence proving their damage (including copies of passenger and vehicle tickets if available, medical documents and certificates, receipts of expenses incurred as a result of the accident including repatriation costs, clothing, food, etc.).

* More information on the liability of sea carriers towards passengers in cases of personal injury or death can be found in the presentation on the liability of the carrier for cruise liner passengers’ accidents by Silina Pavlakis at the Malaga Annual Conference of Pan – European Organization of Personal Injury Lawyers (PEOPIL) on “Personal Injury in Times of Change” in September 2013. (PowerPoint – pdf ).