Grimaldi ship sinks off French coast, crew rescued by British Royal Navy

Grimaldi’s container/ro-ro vessel ‘Grande America’ sank in the Bay of Biscay after having caught fire. The 27 crew of the vessel managed to evacuate the vessel in time and have been rescued by the British Royal Navy who responded to the distress call.

The frigate was on her way home to Plymouth after nine months away in the Asia-Pacific region when she received and responded to a mayday during the night from the 28,000-tonne merchant ship about 150 miles southwest of Brest: the crew were fighting a losing battle against the flames and were abandoning ship.

All 27 crew members crammed aboard the lifeboat which smashed into the heavy seas as it launched, damaging the craft which was unable to make headway. Despite very difficult sea conditions, Argyll succeeded in launching her sea boat which nudged the lifeboat against the frigate’s side so the Grande America’s crew could be brought aboard.

In the heavy seas, the orange lifeboat was “bobbing around like a cork in a bathtub,” said Lieutenant Commander Dave Tetchner, HMS Argyll’s Weapon Engineer Officer. “The conditions were horrendous – the vessels were rolling at 30 degrees which made it extremely hairy getting the sailors safely on board. Royal Marines were on the ropes hauling people up, while the sea boat was pushing the lifeboat against Argyll.”

The 27 sailors rescued are being taken to the French port of Brest. None of them suffered life-threatening injuries but some would require hospital treatment and all were stunned by their ordeal.

“It was pretty awful for them. They’d had to fight a fire in dreadful seas and every one of them suffered smoke inhalation. Then they faced the prospect of abandoning ship and then their lifeboat failed. It was pretty awful all-round and they were shocked”, Tetchner says. “Without doubt, this was a near run thing. The conditions were on the limit for recovery and this could just as easily been a different result.”

Video of the rescue.

Deep waters

MV Grande America was still aflame when Argyll left the merchant ship around 5am Monday morning. The Italian-registered vessel had been bound for Casablanca from Hamburg when the fire broke out at 8pm yesterday.

The French coast guard and navy had sent assistance to the scene to secure the then still drifting and blazing vessel, but the Grande America sank before the salvors were able to secure the ship. Grimaldi had already called upon Ardent Salvage to aid in the matter, but at the moment it is not known if any further actions will be taken by the salvors. The vessel sank in a location where the sea is 4.6 kilometers deep.

Photo courtesy: British Royal Navy and Préfecture maritime de l’Atlantique.

Author: Tobias Pieffers

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