Port St Mary Lifeboat Station - Callouts: 13th September 2001.
Weather: heavy rain squalls; Visibility moderate / locally poor; wind W to WNW gale 8 gusting severe gale 9
Six crew were on the 38 metre Belgium registered fishing vessel 'Free Bird', Z 27, when the engine room caught fire 12 miles south west of the Calf of Man. The Inmarsat satellite alert was picked up by the Dutch Coastguard and passed via Swansea Coastguard to Holyhead Coastguard who scrambled the RAF rescue Seaking helicopter from RAF Valley, Angelsey to the scene along with the Port St Mary lifeboat at 10:10 BST.
The helicopter, Rescue 122, arrived on scene around 10:50 BST., just after a heavy explosion on board. The helicopter pilot advised the skipper to get his crew into the liferaft as it was far too dangerous to winch direct from the burning vessel. The lifeboat arrived 15 minutes later as the last of the crew were being winched to the helicopter.
All six were airlifted to Bangor hospital for checks, although the helicopter pilot reported no apparent serious injuries only shock after their ordeal.
Jim Paton, District Controller at Holyhead Coastguard comments:
"The rescue teams worked extremely well against the north westerly winds gusting to severe gale force 9 and the threat of further explosions."
The lifeboat remained on scene as the vessel continued to burn. She had lost one set of beam gear whilst the other set remained outboard at sea level; this meant she was drifting broadside to, in 3 to 4 meter high seas. The worry was that the trawler would be a hazard to shipping but it was thought likely that the vessel would sink.
At 12:20 with winds blowing at 45 knots (force 9) the flames subsided however the fierce fire meant the whole of the starboard side of the wheelhouse had disappeared down to deck level. The trawler remained afloat. Discussion were underway between the trawlers' owners, their insurers and tug operators to attempt salvaging her.
An hour later a tug was being preparing to get underway from Liverpool for the scene and the lifeboat was released at 13:45 to return to port.
the Free Bird on fire.. (copyright PSM Lifeboat)
crew struggle to recover the liferaft... (copyright PSM Lifeboat)
Postscript - A tug reached the floating hulk during the morning of 14th September and with the weather much abated easily managed to get the fishing boat in tow. The tug was due to take the Freebird to Liverpool.
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Edited 13-Sep -01