A crew of 27 were saved from a container ship engulfed in flames after a Royal Navy vessel moved in to save them from 150 miles away.
It took sailors on HMS Argyll just eight hours to save every person aboard the 28,000-tonne merchant ship in the Bay of Biscay after the ship’s cargo of containers and cars caught fire.
The navy ship was bound for the UK having stopped in Gibraltar at the weekend.
The crew aboard the Grande America merchant ship had been trying to fight the flames but were forced to abandon it, climbing into their lifeboat despite the 5m to 6m swirls in the sea at night.
The lifeboat’s engine had been damaged, which left it unable to move away from the flames leaving the crew “bobbing around like a cork in a bathtub”.
On receiving a mayday message, the Argyll moved 150 miles through difficult sea conditions to launch their small sea boat, which was used to nudge the lifeboat against the safety of the frigate so the crew could be lifted to safety one-by-one.
Lieutenant Commander Dave Tetchner, from HMS Argyll, said: “It was pretty awful for them – they’d had to fight a fire in dreadful seas.”
“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.”
“You see container ships like this every day when you’re sailing around the world. What you do not see is one in flames – it was a dreadful sight.”
The 27 sailors rescued were then taken to the French port of Brest and while there were no life-threatening injuries, some required hospital treatment.
The frigate had been returning to Plymouth after nine months in the Asia- Pacific region working with allies overseas.
The MV Grande America was still aflame when Argyll left the merchant ship around 5am. The Italian-registered vessel had been bound for Casablanca from Hamburg when the fire broke out at 8pm on Sunday.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “HMS Argyll’s swift and selfless response to very dangerous situation in difficult conditions undoubtedly saved 27 lives. I commend her crew.”
“This rescue demonstrates that even on the final leg of a challenging nine-month deployment to the Far East, the Royal Navy’s sailors remain vigilant and professional at all times.”