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‘A near run thing’: Daring British navy rescue saves 27 after Italian cargo ship catches fire, sinks

‘A near run thing’: Daring British navy rescue saves 27 after Italian cargo ship catches fire, sinks
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The HMS Argyll, with a crew of 200, rushed to the MV Grande America which had caught fire Monday night and had sent out a mayday call some 330 kilometres off Brest, France.

As the Grimaldi Lines ship was walloped by six-metre waves, its crew had retreated to a battered lifeboat that was “bobbing around like a cork in a bathtub,” witnesses told AFP.

This handout picture released on March 11, 2019 by the French Marine Nationale shows flames on the Italian merchant ship Grande America off the coasts of the French Brittany. AFP/Getty Images

Two other rescue vessels that had arrived on the scene before the British had not been able to put the blaze out.

“Without a doubt, this was a near run thing,” said Commanding Officer of HMS Argyll, Commander Toby Shaughnessy, according to AFP .

This handout picture released on March 12, 2019 and taken on March 11 by the French Marine Nationale shows flames on the Italian merchant ship Grande America off the coasts of the French Brittany. LOIC BERNARDIN/AFP/Getty Images

“The conditions were on the limit for recovery and this could just as easily been a different result. It was an exceptional team effort and there’s a great feeling on board after a successful result — everyone was saved.”

The navy vessel was making its way to Plymouth, England; the Italian ship was headed from Hamburg, Germany to Casablanca, Morocco. Moroccan media report that the cargo ship had a total 56,000-tonne capacity and was 214 metres in length. Its captain reportedly tried first to , before the situation became too critical to move any further.

This handout picture released on March 12, 2019 by the French Marine Nationale shows flames on the Italian merchant ship Grande America in the Gascogne Gulf, off the western French coast. LOIC BERNARDIN/ MARINE NATIONALE/AFP/Getty Images

The fire had been burning for hours before the crew was finally saved.

“The ship had been listing increasingly to the right as time went on,” the French navy posted on Twitter, according to Italian outlet thelocal.it

As the situation grew dire, the British team dispatched a separate boat to move the damaged lifeboat alongside the navy vessel. The shocked crew were then able to make their way to safety.

The ship was still burning as the British left the scene with the rescued crew at around 5 a.m. local time Tuesday, and eventually sank in seas with a depth-reading of 4,600-metres.

French Environment Minister Francois de Rugy says efforts to minimize environmental damage are underway. France dispatched a navy helicopter to the scene.

“As always in these situations, there are pollution risks, we can’t deny it, because already there was the heavy fuel used for the engine,” he said.

It remains unclear what the Italian ship was carrying as cargo.

British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the crew of the HMS Argyll had carried out a “swift and selfless response to a difficult situation.”

“This rescue demonstrates that even on the final leg of a challenging nine-month deployment to the Far East, the Royal Navy’s sailors remain vigilant and professional at all times,” he said of the sailors and Royal Marines.

Violeta Bulc, European Commissioner for Transport, thanked all involved in the rescue and said the European Maritime Safety Agency is providing assistance in the disaster’s aftermath, via satellite imagery.

The crew from the cargo ship have been taken to Brest. They were in the main uninjured, but some were suffering from shock.

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