Modern Express ship 'successfully towed from French coast'

  • 1 February 2016
  • From the section Europe
Media captionPrevious efforts to right the ship had failed

The operation to tow a listing cargo ship away from the French coast has succeeded, maritime officials say.

A Spanish tugboat "managed to pivot [the ship], point it towards the open sea and begin towing it," spokesman Louis-Xavier Renaux said.

The vessels are travelling westward at a speed of three knots (5kmh; 3.5mph), he added.

The 22 crew members of the Panamanian-registered Modern Express were airlifted off the ship last Tuesday.

Officials feared the vessel, which was about 44km (27 miles) off Arcachon near Bordeaux in south-western France, could run aground.

But four maritime experts were able to attach a tow line to the vessel before being evacuated.

Image copyright Premar Atlantique
Image caption Four maritime experts were on board to attach the tow line

If the operation had failed, the ship could have hit France's south-west coast between Monday night and Tuesday morning.

Bad weather hindered rescue efforts on Sunday, two days after another tow line to the 164m (538ft) vessel was broken in rough seas.

The ship, which is carrying 3,600 tonnes of timber and digging machines, was listing at an angle of between 40 and 50 degrees.

The Atlantic maritime prefecture said it was "totally impossible to put the cargo ship upright".

Around 300 tonnes of fuel are on board, French authorities say. The Sud-Ouest newspaper reported (in French) that emergency measures were to be put in place if the ship ran aground, in order to contain the fuel and remove it.

In 2002, the Prestige oil tanker sank off the coast of northern Spain, spilling 50,000 tonnes of oil and polluting thousands of miles of coast.

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