News24

Crew rescued from blazing trawler

2012-09-12 10:00

Wellington - All 43 crew members were rescued from a trawler that caught fire in high seas and strong winds off New Zealand's South Island, officials said on Wednesday.

The New Zealand-owned trawler sent out an "urgency call" at 05:24 which was later upgraded to a "Mayday" as the fire, which started in the stern of the vessel, spread quickly.

The first 39 crew to evacuate were picked up by a nearby Russian fishing vessel, the Ivan Golubets, while the captain and three remaining crew later transferred to another fishing boat.

Peter Talley, the head of the company that owns the Amaltal Columbia, described his flagship as a "fireball from the bow to the stern" about 70km from Christchurch.

New Zealand search and rescue co-ordinator Tracy Brickles said the safe transfer of all crew from the burning vessel was an excellent result.

"The priority in these situations is always the safety of the crew. This is a good result in difficult conditions with winds of 30 knots and a swell of 4m."

Talley told Fairfax News the fire was "an absolute disaster, but everyone's OK, there's no panic there at all".

The crew had fought the fire for more than three hours and "it was so bad at one stage the skipper had to abandon the wheelhouse because of the thick black smoke".

He said the Columbia had lost all power and steering and was about four hours away from the port of Lyttelton near Christchurch.