Cornwall

Ship fire crew rescued from life rafts in Atlantic

Rescue operation at The Athena. Pic: French Navy
Image caption Eleven life rafts were deployed from the Athena

Nearly 100 people who were on board a ship which caught fire have been rescued from life rafts.

The Athena, a factory fishing ship, had 111 people on board when the fire started 230 miles (370km) south-west of the Isles of Scilly in the Atlantic.

A cargo vessel rescued 98 crew members in the rafts. There were no injuries.

The fire was under control, but 13 people were remaining on board to tackle it, the ship's owner said. The ship is now sailing to the UK.

Aircraft scrambled

Coastguards in Falmouth, Cornwall, who co-ordinated the rescue operation, were alerted to the fire at about 0620 BST.

The master of the ship evacuated the non-essential personnel to life rafts after the blaze broke out in the processing area of the ship while it was sailing to its next fishing area.

Coastguards said that five ships responded to the emergency call and that the nearest, the container ship Vega, reached the scene scene first and recovered the 98 people, both men and women, from 11 life rafts.

The 13 crew still on board were continuing to fight the fire, which had been contained in a compartment, they added.

The ship is sailing under its own power towards Falmouth, travelling at a speed of about 8 knots (9mph). It is expected in port on Thursday evening.

The Athena crew members on board the Vega, which is on its way to Jamaica, are being checked by the container vessel's medical staff.

Coastguards said it was "very fortunate" that no-one was injured in the fire, or while the crew were being moved to and from the rafts.

They added that it was possible the Vega could be diverted to Falmouth to allow the Athena's crew members to disembark, but that had not been confirmed.

As part of the operation, a Falcon 50 fixed-wing aircraft was scrambled from a French airfield to provide a radio link between the rescue scene and its co-ordinators.

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Media captionJames Instance, from Falmouth Coastguard, said some crew would remain on the ship

A Royal Navy search and rescue helicopter was scrambled from 771 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Culdrose, in Cornwall, but did not take part in the rescue. It was held on the Isles of Scilly.

The Faroe Islands-based Athena was constructed in 1992 and rebuilt in China this year after another fire.

It is managed by shipping company Thor and has a maximum capacity of 125, according to the company's website.

The crew people on board included Chinese, Russians, Peruvians and Scandinavians.

The company said all the crew members were safe and in no immediate danger.

It said: "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."

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