A cargo ship with 49 people evacuated from a ferry that caught fire in the Adriatic Sea has arrived in the Italian port of Bari, the first big group to reach land.

Greek ferry fire
A wounded man is seen on the Singapore-flagged cargo container ship Spirit of Piraeus as it arrives in BariFilippo Monteforte/AFP
Greek ferry fire
A wounded passenger is helped by rescuers as he arrives in BariFilippo Monteforte/AFP
Greek ferry fire
Relieved passengers rescued from the burning ferry arrive in Bari aboard the cargo container ship Spirit of PiraeusFilippo Monteforte/AFP

More than 160 people remain trapped on the smoke-filled vessel adrift in rough seas between Italy and Albania.

Helicopter crews have been airlifting passengers from the upper deck of the Norman Atlantic, which caught fire in the early hours of Sunday.

One person was killed in the risky rescue operation and two others were injured.

Greek ferry fire
A passenger is airlifted from the burning Norman Atlantic ferry onto an Italian Navy helicopterMarina Militare/Reuters
Greek ferry fire
Burnt-out cars can be seen on the deck of the Norman Atlantic in this photo provided by Marina MilitareMarina Militare/Reuters
Greek ferry fire
The car ferry Norman Atlantic burns in waters off Greece, in this video grab from the Italian Coast GuardGuardia Costiera/Reuters

Bad weather hampered efforts overnight to attach cables to the ferry for towing, and a tug boat is expected to reach the ship to make another attempt.

Sky and Italian state television RAI reported that one of the people rescued said he had seen four people dead, but there was no confirmation of the report.

Greek ferry fire
Italian coast guards carry the body of a dead passenger into an ambulance in BrindisiCarlo Hermann/AFP
Greek ferry fire
A survivor is taken off the cargo ship on a stretcher after arriving in BariFilippo Monteforte/AFP
Greek ferry fire
A man rescued from the Norman Atlantic is helped by medics at the Antonio Perrino hospital in BrindisiCiro de Luca/Reuters

The Italian-flagged ferry, chartered by Greek ferry operator Anek Lines, was sailing between Patros in western Greece to Ancona in Italy carrying 478 passengers and crew and more than 200 vehicles when it caught fire.

All day and night, passengers huddled on the vessel's upper decks, pelted by rain and hail and struggling to breathe through the thick smoke.

greek ferry fire
The sun rises behind the fire-damaged Norman Atlantic car ferry as it makes its way way to BrindisiMarina Militare/Reuters
Greek ferry fire
Smokes pours off the Norman Atlantic in the Adriatic SeaMarina Militare/Reuters