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More problems for stricken ship Amaltal Columbia

Thursday 13 Sep 2012 4:53 p.m.

By Annabelle Tukia

Following yesterday’s fire, an ammonia leak on the the stricken vessel the Amaltal Columbia, at Lyttelton, has resulted in two people needing medical attention.

The 64m ship was towed to safety last night after spending a day listing off the Canterbur coast on fire - and this afternoon the skipper spoke of the desperate moments before he ordered his 43 crew to abandon ship.

Chris Patrick has spent 23 years at sea on fishing boats. Yesterday he faced the toughest day of his entire career - when the ship he skippers caught fire 80km off the Canterbury coast.

“Abandoning ship is the last resort, you know, you never leave your main platform.”

He says the fire inside the ship's fish meal hold was so intense that the crew who were fighting it quickly ran out of oxygen.

Compounding that issue were 45 knot winds and 3m swells.

“I did look over the side thinking, ‘geez I hope we don't have to get off’.”

They did, and used their life-rafts successfully to get to two fishing boats that rushed to their aid.

Last night the stricken Columbia was towed into Lyttelton Harbour so fire crews could put the blaze out.

Talley's Nelson chief executive Tony Hazlett says it is still too early to say what caused it - but there were plenty of things on board to fuel it.

“It was the packaging that then moved through the factory deck and caught the linings of the walls on fire.”

Mr Hazlett estimates the damage inside the Columbia - one of Talley's' flagship vessels - will take four to five months to repair.

“We are going to lose catching capacity for the next five to six months, but we will cover that with the rest of our fleet. We will make sure the crew is employed. It’s going to have an impact on us, there’s no question about it.”

The Traffic Accident Investigation Commission began its investigation in to what caused the blaze today, but say their findings could take up to a year.

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