All 111 crew safe after ship catches fire off English coast

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The 111 crew of a factory fishing ship were safe after the vessel caught fire off southwest England on Wednesday, its owners said.

More than 80 crew members of the ship, the Athena, took to liferafts after the vessel caught fire 230 nautical miles (425 kilometres) southwest of the Isles of Scilly.

The British coastguard launched a rescue operation, assisted by a communications plane sent from France.

The Faroe Islands-based owners of the vessel said all of the crew were safe and in no immediate danger, although 13 crew members had stayed on board the Athena to fight the fire.

In a statement, the Thor shipping company said: "Around 6:00 am 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 store on the port side of the ship.

"The fire safety crew on board have remained on board to try to contain the situation.

"All but the 13 firefighting crew have abandoned the ship, and all are safe.

"The firefighting crew are safe and are in no immediate danger."

Britain's Maritime and Coastguard Agency said a container ship, the Vega, headed to the scene after picking up a distress call and took on board the crew, a mix of Chinese, Russians, Peruvians and Scandinavians.

The coastguard in Falmouth, on the southwest English mainland, coordinated the rescue operation.

A plane dispatched from an airport near Brest, northwest France, provided a communications link to the scene and a Royal Navy helicopter flew from the English mainland to the Isles of Scilly to refuel in order to take part in the rescue.

According to the website, a fire also broke out on the ship in 2007.

© 2010 AFP

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