North Sea ship evacuated off Germany amid blast fears

Handout of Purple Beach on fire Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Purple Beach caught fire en route from Immingham in north-east England to Germany

A crew have abandoned a container ship a few miles off the German coast amid fears that its cargo of fertiliser could explode.

Fire broke out on Monday night in the hold of the Purple Beach, as it headed for the German port of Brake.

Residents near Bremerhaven were told to keep windows and doors shut as a strong smell was reported in the area.

Although the fire was initially put out, it started again on Tuesday prompting the crew to leave the ship.

Toxic gas

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption German authorities warned residents to stay indoors because of the smell from a gas cloud

The 192m-long (630ft) ship had been heading from Immingham on the north-east coast of England to Brake, south of Bremerhaven, when it caught fire.

It was still well alight on Wednesday and authorities said there was a danger it might explode.

Footage from the scene showed smoke rising from the Marshall Islands-registered ship on Wednesday.

The 22-strong crew and firefighters, who had tried to put out the blaze, arrived back on land overnight after three boats were sent to their aid some 20 nautical miles (40km) north of the German coast and 15 nautical miles west of the island of Helgoland.

A total of 36 people were taken to hospital for treatment for inhaling toxic gas, although no-one was said to be in a serious condition.

Maritime emergency officials issued an alert to nearby islands as well as mainland areas of northern Germany because of the cloud of malodorous gas.

"There's no danger to the environment yet," maritime official Michael Friedrich said, although there were fears that could change.

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