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Greek ferry fire sends smoke billowing, but all aboard safe

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    A firefighting vessel throws water as smoke rises from the Eleftherios Venizelos ship at the port of Piraeus, near Athen Wednesday, Aug. 29 2018. The passenger ferry with hundreds of passengers and crew arrived early Wednesday at the port of Piraeus after a fire broke out while the vessel was en route to the island of Crete, Greek coast guard said. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

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    A firefighting vessel throws water as smoke rise from the Eleftherios Venizelos ship at the port of Piraeus, near Athen on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. The ferry with hundreds of passengers and crew arrived early Wednesday at the port of Piraeus after a fire broke out while the vessel was en route to the island of Crete, Greek coast guard said. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

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    Passengers from the Eleftherios Venizelos ship are transfered by a bus to another terminal at the port of Piraeus , near Athens on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. The ferry with hundreds of passengers and crew arrived early Wednesday at the port of Piraeus after a fire broke out while the vessel was en route to the island of Crete, Greek coast guard said. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

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    Smoke rises as passengers stand at the top of the deck of Eleftherios Venizelos ship at the port of Piraeus, near Athen Wednesday, Aug. 29 2018. The ferry with hundreds of passengers and crew arrived early Wednesday at the port of Piraeus after a fire broke out while the vessel was en route to the island of Crete, Greek coast guard said. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Published August 29. 2018 07:41AM

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A fire broke out on a ferry sailing to the island of Crete from mainland Greece early Wednesday, forcing hundreds of passengers to don life vests and wait on the deck for hours before they were safely evacuated when the ship returned to port.

The fire on the Eleftherios Venizelos ferry started in the parking bay and was contained after activating an automatic extinguishing mechanism. Still, it left smoke billowing out of the ship as it turned back to the port of Piraeus, near Athens. The 875 passengers onboard disembarked using mobile safety stairs from a side entrance of the ship.

“It is a difficult situation, because we are dealing with a large vessel,” Fire Service official Yiannis Stamoulis said.

He described the firefighting effort as ongoing.

Hours after the Eleftherios Venizelos docked, smoke continued to rise from the vessel which was surrounded by fire fighters.

Defense Ministry officials said preparations had initially been made to rescue passengers by helicopter before the ferry reached Piraeus, but that option was not considered necessary.

The Merchant Marine Ministry and Greek ferry operator ANEK said all 141 crew members on board were also unharmed.

The fire broke out as the ferry passed the tiny island of Agios Giorgos, 70 kilometers (45 miles) southeast of Piraeus, and was ordered to return. In a statement, the ferry operator said the fire had started at a parking bay used by trucks.

More than 35 million passengers used ferry services in Greece last year, mostly from mainland ports to islands — an increase of 7.4 percent from 2016 as tourism continues to grow.

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