Lowestoft ship fire: Skipper says crew lucky to be alive

Skipper Mick Latham said the three-man crew had minutes to get off the ECC Topaz

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A captain of a catamaran which caught fire and sank off the Suffolk coast has said the crew are lucky to be alive.

Three crewmen from the ECC Topaz were rescued from a life raft about 10 miles from Lowestoft on Tuesday.

Mick Latham, skipper for the East Coast Charters vessel, said: "It was quite frightening - that black smoke, when it starts coming, comes fast.

ECC Topaz The boat sank about two hours after the mayday call was made

"When I see the pictures, I think I'm quite lucky to still be here."

The catamaran's engine caught fire at about 13:00 GMT and the crew of three had to abandon ship as the flames took hold.

Training exercise

The RAF Search & Rescue helicopter from Wattisham airfield took the trio to the James Paget Hospital in Gorleston as a precaution but no-one were seriously hurt.

The vessel, which ferries people to offshore wind farms, was on a training exercise when the fire happened.

It sank about two hours after the mayday call was made.

Mr Latham said: "As we got in the life raft the smoke followed us and getting the raft's paddles out of their plastic bags was actually quite hard so we were stuck next next to the vessel for a short while.

"We were lucky the tide was in a different direction to the wind or we would have been in a different situation."

Flt Sgt Keith Best, from the RAF helicopter, said: "It's always quite strange to be doing the rescue itself while the vessel is still burning.

"As we were [winching] the three guys up to the aircraft, the burning vessel was going under the waves."

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch said its inquiry is expected to take up to nine months.

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