Nearly 100 crew who had to abandon a factory fishing ship which caught fire in the Atlantic Ocean were returning to shore Wednesday after being rescued by a passing vessel, the British coastguard said.
The crew were forced to leap into life rafts after the blaze broke out in packing material aboard the Athena in the early hours as it fished 230 nautical miles southwest of the Isles of Scilly.
Ninety-eight crew members — a mix of Chinese, Russians, Peruvians and Scandinavians — floated in the ocean for several hours before being picked up by a passing container ship, the Vega, which had heard their distress call.
A further 13 people, firefighting crew, stayed on the ship to tackle the blaze and were not believed to be in any danger.
“They all jumped into life rafts; very dark, difficult, frightening situation for them,” James Instance, from Falmouth Coastguard which coordinated the rescue, told BBC television.
“What you’ve got is essentially survivors that have been in the water for four or five hours.”
A communications plane sent from northwestern France assisted the British coastguard in the rescue effort.
The fire was under control but not out on the Athena late Wednesday. The ship and the Vega are both on their way to Falmouth.
They are expected to arrive late Thursday, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) told AFP.
The shipping company Thor, the Faroe Islands-based owners of the vessel, said in a statement: “Around 6:00 am (0500 GMT) this morning a fire broke out on board Athena while she was sailing to her next fishing area.
“The fire appears to have started in packing material stored on the port side of the ship.
“The fire safety crew on board have remained on board to try to contain the situation.
“The firefighting crew are safe and are in no immediate danger.”