HMS Argyll Saves 27 Sailors From Burning Ship Off French Coast

The crew of HMS Argyll has saved all members aboard a cargo ship after its containers and cars caught fire off the coast of France.

Royal Navy personnel responded to a mayday from the 28,000-tonne Italian merchant ship, Grande America, in the Bay of Biscay, around 150 miles southwest of Brest.

"We could see the vessel was in a pretty bad state," Lieutenant Commander David Tetchner said.

"The fire was spreading from one container to the other. It was getting quite vicious."

The ship's crew were unable to fight the flames and were abandoning the ship.

"At some point, the fire got too extreme and the Master of the vessel decided that they were going to have to abandon ship," explained Lieutenant Commander Tetchner.

Sailors from HMS Argyll spent eight hours saving every person on board Grande America, the Royal Navy confirmed. 

The frigate was on her way home to Plymouth after a nine-month deployment in the Asia-Pacific region when they responded to the call.

HMS Argyll's seaboat  'nudged'  the ship's lifeboat to help sailors escape (Picture: Royal Navy).
HMS Argyll's seaboat 'nudged' the ship's lifeboat to help sailors escape (Picture: Royal Navy).

Despite difficult sea conditions, HMS Argyll launched her sea boat and helped Grande America's crew climb onboard their lifeboat which had smashed into the heavy seas as it launched. 

"We put one of our sea boats into the water. It made its way to the stricken vessel and the lifeboat with 27 crew in it," the HMS Argyll’s Weapon Engineer Officer said.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "HMS Argyll’s swift and selfless response to a 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."

Lieutenant Commander Dave Tetchner, HMS Argyll’s Weapon Engineer Officer, said the lifeboat was "bobbing around like a cork in the bathtub".

“The conditions were horrendous – the vessels were rolling at 30 degrees which made it extremely hairy getting the sailors safely on board," Lieutenant Commander Tetchner added.

"Royal Marines were on the ropes hauling people up, the sea boat was pushing the lifeboat against Argyll."

The Grande America's captain being rescued (Picture: Royal Navy).
The Grande America's captain being rescued (Picture: Royal Navy).

The 27 rescued sailors are being taken to the French port of Brest.

Lieutenant Commander Tetchner said none suffered life-threatening injuries but some would require hospital treatment and all were stunned by their ordeal.

He added every 27 crew members suffered "smoke inhalation".

MV Grande America was still aflame when HMS Argyll left the merchant ship at around 5am.

The Italian-registered vessel had been bound for Casablanca from Hamburg when the fire broke out at 8pm on Sunday.

HMS Argyll (Picture: MOD).
HMS Argyll (Picture: MOD).

Lieutenant Commander Tetchner praised the 200 sailors and Royal Marines who responded to the incident. 

"You couldn’t single any one individual out – the way the whole ship responded was magnificent and demonstrated how good our training is," he explained.

"These are the things people join the Navy for – a real life, really worthwhile job, especially when the result is a good one like this."

Commanding Officer of HMS Argyll, Commander Toby Shaughnessy, said he was "incredibly proud".

HMS Argyll is due to arrive at her home base of Plymouth on Friday.

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