Passenger ferry carrying 466 people catches fire off Greece

ATHENS (REUTERS) - A car ferry carrying 466 passengers and crew caught fire while sailing from Greece to Italy and its captain ordered its evacuation, coast guard officials said on Sunday.

The Norman Atlantic, sailing from Patras in western Greece to the Italian port of Ancona, was 33 nautical miles off the small island of Othonoi when it sent a distress signal, Greek coast guard officials said.

"The captain has requested the evacuation of the ship, according to initial information," coast guard spokesman Nikos Lagkadianos said.

The fire broke out in the garage of the vessel, which was carrying 222 vehicles, just before 6.00 am local time (0400 GMT), the coast guard said.

Passengers who telephoned Greek television stations said that an evacuation was being attempted but that conditions were difficult.

A helicopter and two rescue vessels were on their way to the area and a container ship was nearby. Strong winds were blowing in the area, the coast guard said.