Stormy rescue for 26 who abandoned cargo ship

19th January 2007, Comments 0 comments

LONDON, Jan 18, 2007 (AFP) - Twenty-six crew who abandoned their sinking freighter in the English Channel were airlifted to safety Thursday in a daring joint French-British operation launched in stormy weather.

LONDON, Jan 18, 2007 (AFP) - Twenty-six crew who abandoned their sinking freighter in the English Channel were airlifted to safety Thursday in a daring joint French-British operation launched in stormy weather.

The French coastguard said all the men who had been huddling in a lifeboat had been winched on board British Sea King helicopters and were taken to the naval air base of Culdrose in southwestern England.

They had been forced to leave their London-registered container ship, the MS Napoli, after it developed a 1.5-metre (five-foot) gash just above the waterline.

A spokesman for the British coastguard said the freighter was listing badly off the Cornish coastline.

"We don't know yet whether it will go down," he said.

"We know there is a hole in one side of the ship and the engine room is flooded, but we do not know how that came about. We are obviously concerned about what is in the containers and if they pose a threat to the coastline."

A female colleague told AFP that details on the crew's condition and identities were not immediately available, but gave their nationalities as British, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Turkish, Indian and Filipino.

The French said the sea rescue was carried out in hazardous conditions.

"The conditions at sea are awful -- gusts of 80 kilometres (50 miles) an hour, a six-metre swell, a ceiling of 150 metres for planes and helicopters," said a French coastguard spokesman, Jean-Marie Figue.

French officials said later Thursday that the ship was carrying 1,684 tonnes of "dangerous" cargo including explosives and unspecified toxins, and a five-kilometre slick of oil pollution had been detected behind the vessel.

The 16-year-old ship was last inspected by the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency in May 2005 when officials said it met safety standards.

The spokeswoman for the agency said the French and British had each sent a tug to tow the stricken vessel to a port.

A French team comprising a marine safety officer, navy personnel, a diver and a technician had also been taken to the freighter to evaluate its situation, the French coastguard said.

She added that a car carrier was standing by, but due to its size was unable to offer any further assistance.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French News

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