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Briton rescued from blaze ferry

A young British show-jumper and his fiancee are among scores of people rescued from a stricken Italy-bound ferry tonight.

The Italian Navy tonight said 190 people had been plucked from the Norman Atlantic after a blaze broke out and the rescue operation is expected to continue into the night.

One person has died and 287 are still waiting to be brought to safety.

The fire broke out before dawn today on a car deck of the Italian-flagged ship, which was travelling from the western Greek port of Patras to the Italian port of Ancona on the Adriatic, with 422 passengers and 56 crew members on board.

"A number of British nationals were on board. We believe some have now been rescued, but the rescue operation is ongoing," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said tonight.

The Government is in close contact with Italian and Greek authorities and is doing everything it can to ascertain the whereabouts of all affected British nationals, she said.

Early official reports, based on passenger manifests, had indicated only two Britons were on the ferry, but it's understood additional citizens who were not travelling on British passports may also have been aboard.

One of the Britons - Nick Channing-Williams, 37, who is based in Greece - had been standing on the top deck of the ferry in pouring rain since this morning.

His sister told the Press Association shortly before 10pm that Mr Channing-Williams and his 33-year-old Greek fiancee Regina Theoffili had been airlifted to safety.

Mr Channing-Williams' mother Dotty, from Berkshire, managed to speak to him by telephone earlier today.

"He was really good, but then he would be. He wouldn't want to worry me," she told the Press Association this afternoon.

"I told him it's just so difficult because there's no information.

"And he said, 'It's far more difficult here, because we've been on the top deck in the freezing cold and rain and thunder and lightning!'"

Susan Daltas said her daughter Mia, a British national, and two granddaughters had been rescued.

"I've heard recently from Marcus, our son-in-law, who kept the phone, that they've been airlifted to safety - the two little girls and Mia. But he's still on the ferry, as far as we understand," Mrs Daltas told the BBC this evening.

"They sent the two girls quite a long time before Mia, which worried us a little because they're too young to be without their mother, especially after all that worry and fright. They must be terrified."

She said her youngest granddaughter had been taken to a mainland hospital.

"She was suffering from hypothermia because they didn't even manage to get a coat out of the cabin before they had to go on deck. But apparently she's now sleeping," she said.

Of her son-in-law, Mrs Daltas said: "He was shaken, obviously, but I think he'd been staying strong for the family, and the minute they were safe he went a bit wobbly. It's just cold, and he said his mobile was soaking wet because they had to keep moving around the boat to get away from the fire. So it's obviously not pleasant."

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