Hundreds of passengers were trapped on a burning car ferry off Greece on Sunday, pleading to be rescued by a flotilla of nearby ships that battled storm conditions in open water to try to reach them.
The Greek coastguard said 150 people had been saved from the Italian-registered Norman Atlantic, which was carrying almost 500 passengers and crew when it sent a distress signal after fire broke out on its lower deck.
As high winds and rough seas impeded efforts by other ships to rescue those still on board, it was unclear whether there had been casualties or if any passengers were in the water.
"The ship is still on fire, the floor is burning," passenger George Styliaras told Greek TV by telephone, adding that smoke was making it difficult to breathe. "We don't know how long we can hold on."
Cold winter temperatures would make survival in the sea difficult unless rescue came quickly.
Shipping Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said the combination of very bad weather, with winds of up to 55 miles (88 kilometres) per hour and the fire, made the operation extremely complicated.
"We are doing everything we can to save those on board and no one, no one will be left helpless in this tough situation," he told reporters. "It is one of the most complicated rescue operations that we have ever done."