Boat fire rescue completed
Wed, 12 Sep 2012 6:01p.m.
By David Di Somma
A rescue mission went off like clockwork off the Canterbury coast this morning, as 43 crew were evacuated from their burning vessel, and are now back in Lyttelton.
The Nelson-based factory trawler Amaltal Columbia put out a mayday early this morning, 85km out of Lyttelton after her crew couldn't control a fire in the hold.
The crew members who'd been on board the vessel are now safely back at the port of Lyttelton.
The 43 all-New Zealand crew were three weeks into a 45-day trip. For family, awaiting news, it had been an anxious time.
The pictures from the air didn't adequately convey the extensive damage. The flagship of the Talley's fleet had to be abandoned after crew members had spent hours fruitlessly trying to put out a fire which was deep-seated in the fish meal hold.
Talley's Nelson chief executive Tony Hazlett says it was a serious situation.
“When the captain gives the abandon ship order, he has to have good reason. It's not something done lightly.”
The vessel was 75km northeast of Christchurch.
The Rescue Recovery centre was first alerted to the fire onboard at 5:24am this morning. Six minutes later it was updated to a mayday call.
Two nearby fishing boats made their way to the scene. One was a Ukrainian boat operated by Independent Fisheries. General manager Mark Allison says the crew knew what to do.
“The Ukrainian crew are very able seamen and they're trained in that sort of thing as to what’s required, but bearing [in mind] the conditions as they are, it’s been pretty tricky.”
Mr Hazlett says at least the boat wasn’t too far off shore.
“It's fortunate, I don't know if that's right word, that it was 40 miles off Lyttelton and not 500 miles from Bluff when it would have taken a long time for people to get there.”
As well as the 30 knot winds and four-metre waves, it was also bitterly cold.
Overseeing the operation was the Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion, piloted by Regan Graham.
“The Orion was circling with thermal imaging equipment to see where the fire was and if it was growing, and then reporting back to the captain.”
While the crew are safe, the future of the Amaltal Columbia is uncertain and there are still many more questions than answers about why this happened.
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