THE CREW of the Banff registered whitefish boat Onward had a narrow escape on Wednesday afternoon when their 20 metre wooden trawler caught fire around 100 miles west of Fair Isle.
The five crew were airlifted by the Sumburgh-based coastguard helicopter from a life raft and taken to Kirkwall airport from where they were transferred to the town’s Balfour Hospital by ambulance.
All men were suffering from hypothermia, but were otherwise uninjured.
A spokesman for Shetland Coastguard said he had only briefly spoken to the skipper who had reported that the fire on board the vessel had spread very rapidly. The cause is not yet known.
The coastguard was initially alerted to the incident at 1.30pm when they picked up a signal from an emergency beacon with no location given.
Following further detection work via satellite they were able to pinpoint the area to the north west of Orkney and identified the vessel in distress as the Onward.
After a patrol aircraft had flown over the area it was established that the Onward was on fire, and that two life rafts were floating nearby.
The fixed wing aircraft stayed in the area until the search and rescue helicopter 102 was able to airlift all five men from one of the life rafts.
The helicopter landed the five casualties at Kirkwall at around 3.40pm, two hours after the initial report had been received.
The coastguard’s only remaining emergency towing vessel Anglian Sovereign, anchored off Orkney, was then tasked to go to the stricken fishing boat to assess whether the fire can be extinguished and the vessel be salvaged.
Reports that the Onward has since sunk could not be confirmed by Shetland coastguard. The Anglian Sovereign is due to arrive at the scene at 11pm.
The coastguard spokesman said the crew had a lucky escape. When coastguards had initially sent out a radio broadcast to alert shipping in the vicinity, they received no response. “There was nothing out there,” he said.
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