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Saving The Factory Ship Athena

By James Donahue

The 344-foot factory ship Athena became the scene of a dramatic rescue of over 100 crew members after fire broke out amid thousands of cardboard boxes October 27, 2010 in the Atlantic while operating some 270 miles off the southwest coast of England.

Ninety-eight members of the crew of the 18-year-old fish processing vessel escaped in lifeboats after the fire broke out in the hold where 270,000 cardboard boxes were in storage. The vessel also was carrying ammonia and bunker fuel, which could have been a volatile mix.

A nearby container ship, Vega, answered the Athena’s distress call and successfully rescued the crew members from the life boats within an hour after they left the burning ship.

The captain and 12 other members of the ship’s crew stayed aboard the Athena to fight the flames. A British Coast Guard brought fire fighters to the vessel to assist in battling the fire. In the meantime, the ship was running at about fifty percent power toward the port of Falmouth.

The Athena was completely abandoned on October 29 after the rest of the crew and the Coast Guard firefighters were overcome by carbon monoxide fumes. They were airlifted onto a stand-by vessel.

A salvage team moved in to continue to battle the stubborn fire while tugs brought the smoking ship to Falmouth. Harbor officials would not allow the vessel to enter the port, however, until the fire was extinguished and the ship was determined save to be in the harbor.

It took 13 days before the fire was at last reported extinguished and the ship allowed to enter Falmouth Port, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said. The salvage company was expected to turn the ship back to its owners for repairs.