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Ferry collides with oil tanker; 140 feared dead

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LEGHORN, Italy -- An Italian ferry rammed into an anchored oil tanker in heavy fog, sparking a fire that engulfed the ferry, port authorities said Thursday. At least 140 passengers and crew were feared dead.

The disaster occurred in thick fog about 3 miles off Leghorn, in northwestern Italy, shortly after the 6,187-ton ferry Moby Prince left the port at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday for the Sardinian port of Olbia, the officials said.

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Sergio Albanese, commandant of the port authority, said there were 74 passengers and 67 crew aboard the ferry. The only known survivor was a Moby Prince cabin boy who was plucked from the sea by a port authority launch.

The 28 crew members aboard the 98,000-ton Italian tanker Agip Abruzzo escaped injury, officials said.

Albanese said the ferry slammed into the tanker, which was anchored in Leghorn Bay waiting to enter the port in daylight.

He said sparks from the collision set fire to crude oil pouring from one of the tanker's holds. The Agip Abruzzo was carrying 5,000 tons of crude oil.

'A river of crude oil caught fire and engulfed the Moby Prince,' Albanese said.

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The blazing oil spread over about 1 miles of the sea by dawn. A huge pall of black smoke mingled with the thick fog, making rescue work difficult.

Firefighters sprayed foam over the Moby Prince in an attempt to extinguish the flames.

'But we have to be very careful because the ship is listing and there is a risk it will capsize,' Albanese said.

In the offices of the tug boat company that operates in the Leghorn port and had nine boats taking part in rescue efforts, veteran seamen speculated on possible causes of the crash. They said it could have been due to the fog, to a breakdown of the radar system or lack of attention on the part of the crew.

'Maybe the European Cup soccer games were partly to blame,' Sergio Mura, a veteran tug boat crew man told reporters. 'Juventus and Inter (two Italian soccer teams) were playing on the television and maybe there was a moment of general lack of attention.'

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