As rescued passengers receive medical care in Brindisi, the stricken car ferry that caught fire off the Greek coast is being towed to Italy as hundreds still await airlift. Gavino Garay reports. Video provided by Reuters Newslook

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BARI, Italy (AP) — A cargo ship with 49 people evacuated from a Greek ferry that caught fire in the Adriatic Sea arrived in the Italian port of Bari on Monday, the first big group to reach land. Nearly 200 more people remained trapped on the smoke-filled vessel adrift in rough seas between Italy and Albania.

One person was killed in the risky rescue operation and two others were injured as Italian and Greek navy and coast guard ships and helicopters plucked passengers off the stricken vessel and brought them to safety aboard the 10 or so mercantile ships nearby.

One of them, the Spirit of Piraeus, docked in Bari just after 0630 GMT Monday with 49 survivors aboard. Passengers and crew watched from the decks loaded with cargo containers as TV crews and relatives gathered on the docks below. Doctors boarded the ship to check the passengers, who included four children.

The ship came ashore after first trying to dock overnight down the coast in Brindisi. Rough seas forced a change in plans.

The fire broke out before dawn Sunday on a car deck of the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic, carrying 422 passengers and 56 crew members. All day and night, passengers huddled on the vessel’s upper decks, pelted by rain and hail and struggling to breathe through the thick smoke.

By early Monday, 316 people had been evacuated, leaving 161 more on board, Greek Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said.

Helicopters rescued passengers throughout the night, completing 34 sorties with winds over 40 knots an hour, or 80 kilometers an hour.

“Notwithstanding the weather and the darkness, which is another factor, we persisted throughout the entire night,” Italian coast guard Admiral Giovanni Pettorino told Sky TG24.

Those remaining on board were given thermal blankets and found places to wait protected from the elements “even if the conditions remain very difficult,” Pettorino said.

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