Marine firefighters evacuate fish factory ship

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Firefighters being lowered on board Athena
Image caption,
The Athena is being kept outside Falmouth's harbour limits

A fish factory ship on fire for days off Cornwall's coast has been evacuated and the last five people on board flown to hospital after inhaling smoke.

The Faroes-registered Athena caught fire about 230 miles (370km) south west of the Isles of Scilly on Wednesday and is now under tow off Falmouth.

Nearly 30 firefighters and crew members on board were taken off after a release of carbon monoxide, coastguards said.

About 650,000 cardboard boxes are believed to be on fire on board.

The final four firefighters and the captain of a pilot boat were taken to the Royal Cornwall Hospital overnight suffering from the effects of breathing in smoke.

'Large release'

The fire had been kept under control while the vessel sailed in from the Atlantic under its own power.

Twelve Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service personnel specially trained in dealing with marine fires were airlifted on to the Athena by helicopter on Thursday.

The group, and other specialists brought on board to assess the situation, joined 13 crew members who had remained on the vessel to tackle the fire.

The fire started to get worse again from about 1700 BST on Thursday, Martin Bidmead from Falmouth Coastguard said.

He said: "A large release of carbon monoxide from somewhere on board this vessel caused the fire officer in charge on board make the decision that the vessel should be evacuated for the safety of the 28 persons on board."

The vessel has no power after heat from the fire affected the engine room.

Image caption,
Rescued crew members arrived in Falmouth on Thursday

Coastguard tug Anglian Princess took it under tow at about 1900 BST. It is being kept about five miles (8km) outside Falmouth's harbour limits.

A Dutch tug, the Typhoon, is also nearby. It was to spray water jets at the Athena in an attempt to cool the Athena's exterior, coastguards said.

Decisions were also to be made later about whether it was safe to go back on board and fight the fire, they added.

The Secretary of State's Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention, Hugh Shaw, was due in Falmouth later to meet salvors and decide on the next move, Mr Bidmead said.

Coastguards were alerted to the fire, which is believed to have started in a store, at about 0620 BST on Wednesday.

A container ship, the Vega, rescued 98 of the 111-strong crew on Wednesday afternoon and arrived at Falmouth on Thursday. Tugs and tenders brought the crew ashore a few at a time.

No-one was hurt in the fire or the evacuation of the vessel, but the Athena's skipper has been kept in hospital overnight suffering from exhaustion after his ordeal at sea.

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