THE crew of a cargo ship that ran aground in Gibraltar was plucked to safety in a perilous nighttime rescue by Gibraltarian and Spanish emergency services last Friday.
Defying extreme gale force winds, a Spanish maritime rescue helicopter airlifted five men from the bow of the 24-year old bulk carrier Fedra as it lay pinned by pounding waves at the base of sheers cliffs in Europa Point.
But the savage weather played havoc with the helicopter’s engine, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing and leaving teams on land to find another way of getting the men off the ship.
Using a crane positioned on the cliff edge above the bow, Gibraltarian rescuers rigged a cradle that was lowered to the seafarers below.
In small groups throughout the night, they were hauled up wet, shivering and terrified.
At one point, with 11 men still on board, the operation had to be suspended as the storm intensified.
“We thought we were going to lose them,” said one exhausted rescuer. “But at around 7am, we had a small weather window.”
“We knew this was the only chance they had.”
In a dramatic end to the operation, all remaining 11 men were winched to safety in one hoist. The men, mostly Filipino sailors, were treated in hospital but were later released and taken to a local hotel.
By mid Saturday morning the Liberian-flag Fedra had been ripped apart by the sea, the vessel torn in two close to the accommodation block.
Both sections of the ship remained trapped against the cliffs, heaving and hammering violently in the pitching seas.
The Fedra was one of two weekend casualties in this region, which was battered by a force 11 gale for much of Friday and Saturday.
In nearby Algeciras, the Liberian-flag bulk carrier Tawe ran aground and sustained hull damage, leaking fuel oil onto nearby beaches.
There were 22 seafarers on board but tugs were in assistance and the situation appeared stable.
Over in Gibraltar, the focus now is on a salvage operation to remove the wreck of the Fedra, which could pose a danger to navigation if either section breaks free of the rocks.
But no action is likely until after the weekend, when the weather is expected to ease significantly.
The Fedra ran aground after suffering engine failure on Friday morning and dragging its anchor until it came perilously close to the shore.
All through Friday afternoon, tugs laboured to secure towlines to the crippled vessel but these repeatedly failed. Efforts to repair the ship’s engine also proved futile.
The 36,000-tonne ship was empty at the time of the casualty and is believed to be carrying only a small amount of fuel for its own consumption.
According to the EU shipping database Equasis, it is managed by the Greek company Dilek Shipping.
The ship has a chequered port state control background and was last detained in August by Chinese inspectors who found 18 deficiencies, including three retaing to its propulsion systems.
The grounding, which happened just metres from where the New Flame foundered just over a year ago, will once again renew calls for tighter controls on shipping in the area.