Fire broke out Friday on an Italian ferry carrying more than 500 people to the island of Sicily, forcing all passengers to evacuate by lifeboat to another ferry and a coast guard vessel. The Vincenzo Florio ferry was traveling from the mainland port of Naples to Palermo, the Sicilian capital, when the fire erupted in its car hold as the boat came within 40 kilometers of its destination. The fire continued to rage as the ferry was towed toward Palermo, Sicily's fire department said. The ferry's 526 passengers were evacuated to the coast guard ship that came to the rescue and another ferry, said Palermo port official Cosimo Seminara. Some of the passengers were taken off on stretchers when the vessels arrived in Palermo. More than 50 were taken to hospital, mostly because of the effects of smoke and were soon released, officials said. Among them was a pregnant woman and two infants. Passenger Stefano Friscia said crew started knocking on the doors of cabins at 4 a.m. to tell passengers to get on deck quickly. "The smoke became darker and darker, it was hard to breathe, the whole ship filled with smoke and they ordered the lifeboats lowered," he told Sky TG24. Most of the 35 crew members initially stayed on board to help put out the flames, but the captain later ordered a complete evacuation because the fire was spreading, said Roberto Ardizzone, a spokesman for Sicily's firefighters. The cause of the fire was still being investigated. The ship, which belongs to the Italian ferry company Tirrenia di Navigazione SpA, was being towed to Palermo. Ardizzone said firefighters would have a better chance of stopping the blaze once the ship was in port. Sicily is a popular tourist destination in the Mediterranean Sea due to its sunny climate, popular beaches, the Mount Etna volcano and several World Heritage sites.