NINE Polish sailors who were rescued from a blazing yacht 50 miles south west of Shetland finally made it ashore on Thursday evening, nine hours after their ordeal began in the rough seas of the North Atlantic.
The nine crew members on board the yacht Miracle were able to leap into their liferaft after what has been suggested was an explosion on board the 14 metre vessel, which began a terrifying blaze that engulfed the boat, sending plumes of black smoke into the air.
The crew managed to issue a Mayday message at 9.20am which was picked up by Shetland Coastguard who contacted all nearby vessels.
The massive Norwegian anchor handling oil support boat REM Gambler was in the vicinity at the time and raced to the scene, plucking the seven men and two women from their tiny craft that was bouncing in strong northerly winds.
The Miracle had set off from Bergen in Norway on a trip that first took them across the North Sea to Lerwick harbour where they stayed for two days to recuperate from a rough crossing.
On Wednesday evening they set off for Torshavn in the Faroe Islands, but by Thursday morning they were south west of Shetland having been blown off their course by the strengthening winds.
When the blaze took hold and the alert went out, Shetland Coastguard immediately launched the search and rescue helicopter from Sumburgh, which managed to capture frightening video footage of the abandoned yacht ablaze in the middle of the ocean.
The Aith lifeboat was also launched from Shetland’s west coast, but turned around halfway to the scene after it became apparent the crew were safe and well and no one had been injured.
The REM Gambler finally arrived off Shetland after 6pm and the dishevelled crew boarded the Scalloway harbour pilot boat Lyrie, which brought them ashore where they were met by an official reception party of the emergency services.
Throughout the day Shetland Islands Council had been working to establish emergency accommodation for the homeless crew.
As they came ashore they were met by a team of coastguard and police officers as well as members of the local Red Cross team and the Fishermen’s Mission.
They appeared relieved and tired to have finally made it onto firm ground, but were unwilling to speak about their experience to waiting reporters.
Shetland’s area commander chief inspector Lindsay Tulloch said that his officers were interviewing the crew to find out what happened on board and to establish that everyone was OK.
“As a matter of course we will be speaking to members of the crew to ensure they are all safe and well and to ascertain exactly what happened,” he said.
“This is just a routine investigation to make sure nothing sinister happened, and we have no reason to believe that it did.”
Tulloch said that he too had heard reports that there had been an explosion on board the boat, but he had no reason to believe that was true until he had heard back from his officers.
A spokeswoman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: “At approximately 9.20am this morning the UK coastguard received a mayday call and beacon alerts indicating a sailing vessel was in distress 50 miles south west of Shetland.
“A Mayday relay was broadcast by the coastguard requesting assistance for the vessel. A support vessel responded to the broadcast and made its way to the area and sent a recovery craft to the vessel to assess the situation.
“All persons on board have been safely accounted for after the support vessel picked them up from a life raft after they abandoned the sailing vessel.”