Cargo ship narrowly avoids crashing into France’s Atlantic coastline.
RESCUERS have towed a stricken cargo ship away from France’s Atlantic coastline just in time to stop it running aground.
The 164-metre Modern Express tilted dramatically and spent six days drifting in high winds and six-metre waves until a Spanish tugboat managed to pull it away with a cable on Monday.
Today, the vessel carrying 3600 tons of wood and equipment is being towed towards the port of Bilbao in Spain. It is expected to arrive there tomorrow morning.
Louis-Xavier Renaux, a spokesman for local maritime authorities, said the tugboat had “managed to pivot [the Modern Express], point it towards the open sea and begin towing it.”
The 22-strong crew on the Panama-registered vessel had sent a distress signal last Tuesday after the vessel listed strongly to one side, probably because of its cargo coming loose in the hull.
The crew was lifted to safety by helicopter but stormy conditions made rescue attempts impossible over the weekend.
The boat had been just 44 kilometres from the picturesque coast of southwestern France when authorities made a final attempt to attach a tow line and stop it from hitting the shore.
Experts from Dutch company SMIT Salvage, which specialises in helping ships in distress, were lowered by helicopter onto the vessel as it tilted at 40 to 50 degrees while buffeted by large waves.
Renaux had said the priority was to distance the ship from the coastline as much as possible in case the tow line snapped in the rough seas. The maritime authority said in a statement later that the operation was successful and the ship was towed far enough away to avoid running aground.
At its closest point, it had been 42 kilometres from the shore.
“The difficulty is a combination of several things: the wind, the swell and the angle of the boat, which is like climbing a mountain, but which is moving,” a spokesperson for SMIT Salvage said over the weekend.
The Modern Express was carrying diggers and timber from Gabon in west Africa to the port of Le Havre in Normandy. If the towing operation failed, the boat would have risked crashing into the coastline of the Bay of Arcachon, where it would have been dismantled or cut up.
With about 300 tons of fuel in its tanks, French authorities said there was a limited risk of pollution in the event of a crash, but a clean-up vessel had been sent to the scene just in case and coastal communities remained on alert.