A ropax fire that cost the life of at least one passenger in Greece may have been caused by a truck driver spending the night in their vehicle instead of their cabin.

Definitive findings into the blaze on the 33,588-gt Euroferry Olympia (built 1995), which caught sleeping passengers by surprise on the night to 18 February, will not be available for months.

However, with the fire having erupted on the car deck, there is strong suspicion that it began in one of the dozens of vehicles that the Grimaldi Group-owned vessel was carrying en route to Italy.

It would not be the first time that a ferry went up in flames for that reason in the very same waters.

Eight years ago, the ANEK Lines-chartered, 26,900-gt Norman Atlantic (built 2009) was incinerated nearby in the Ionian Sea, leaving at least 12 people dead.

It was later established that the engine of a refrigerated truck on that ship had caught fire, overheating after its driver kept it on throughout the night to provide power to the vehicle’s fish tank.


With a similar reason being suspected behind the Euroferry Olympia accident, in which a Greek truck driver was recovered dead from his vehicle and 10 more people remained missing as of late 20 February, Grimaldi and a Greek truck drivers’ union were busy blaming each other.

“The Euroferry Olympia raises the same questions over compliance with safe navigation rules and protection of human life as the Norman Atlantic did,” Greek truckers’ union SEOFAE said in a press release.

The truckers union went on to suggest that the Euroferry Olympia was overbooked and that Grimaldi allowed truck drivers to spend the night in their cars, which is against the rules.

Grimaldi promptly shot back with a press release of its own, saying that the Euroferry Olympia was travelling at just 42% of full capacity.

Vehicle drivers, which accounted for 159 of the ship’s 239 passengers, had ample opportunity to sleep in their cabin, according to the company.


“If any truck drivers surreptitiously decided to hide in their lorries, they would be blatantly violating international regulations and Grimaldi Group rules, putting themselves and the ship’s safety at risk,” the company added.

Some truck drivers countered that the ship’s cabins were too filthy to sleep in and even posted pictures of bug-bitten arms to prove their point. Others said they spent the night in their vehicles to avoid contracting Covid-19.

Grimaldi dismissed those claims as well. “As all other ships of the Grimaldi Group, the Euroferry Olympia’s cabins and common spaces are regularly cleaned and disinfected,” the company said.

The Euroferry Olympia fire will probably lead to renewed calls to improve ropax safety in European waters.

The European Union, partly in reaction to the Norman Atlantic blaze, funded in 2019 a project to find innovative technical solutions against fires on ro-ro vessels.

Much at stake

Truck drivers, however, are seeking much more radical solutions.

“How can passengers be allowed on ro-ro ships that carry trucks with dangerous and inflammable material?”, SEOFAE asked in its press release.

The Adriatic Sea route between Igoumenitsa, Greece, and Brindisi, Italy, is one of Greece’s main commercial arteries — especially for the brisk trade in highly combustible olive oil.

Hundreds of trucks ply that route daily and the Euroferry Olympia was no exception.

Alongside the Greek driver who died in the flames, another two from Belarus and Bulgaria were trapped for hours in the ship’s bowels before rescuers broke through to them. One Afghani stowaway was rescued as well, after hours in agony.

Any lessons learned? The 26,900-gt Norman Atlantic (built 2009), after its fire on 2014 and before its demolition five years later. Photo: Renano/Wikimedia Commons

Grimaldi has pledged full cooperation with the investigation. The company will certainly be watching proceedings closely. The Norman Atlantic case led to long litigation. In 2020, a Greek court even convicted top ANEK managers over negligence leading to serial manslaughter and arson.

The two ANEK officials in question have appealed the ruling.

There are key differences between the two cases, however — the main one being that passengers’ evacuation seems to have gone smoothly on the Euroferry Olympia.

In contrast, 10 of the 12 people whose dead bodies were recovered in the Norman Atlantic disaster had drowned in a chaotic evacuation.

According to Greek media, a Greek truck driver who survived the Norman Atlantic disaster was also among the Euroferry Olympia evacuees.