Stricken cargo ship successfully towed into Spanish port
Bilbao (Spain) (AFP) –
A stricken cargo ship carrying timber from west Africa was successfully towed into the northern Spanish port of Bilbao Wednesday after a days-long salvage operation prevented it from crashing into the French coast.
A tugboat dragged the listing Panama-registered "Modern Express" into the port accompanied by other vessels, an AFP photographer said, after an unexplained breakdown in high seas last month forced the 22 crew to abandon ship in a dramatic helicopter rescue.
The ship will now have to be moored and put upright again in the coming days in the biggest ever such operation organised by the port of Bilbao, one of the largest on Spain's Atlantic coast.
The Modern Express was carrying diggers and 3,600 tonnes of timber from Gabon in west Africa to the port of Le Havre in Normandy, France when it ran into difficulties in late January.
The ship's crew sent a distress signal on January 26 after the vessel listed strongly to one side, possibly due to its cargo coming loose in the hull.
Two Spanish helicopters were dispatched to airlift the crew to safety.
They had been left clinging to the deck of the ship after it tilted at 40 degrees while buffeted by large waves and high winds.
The abandoned ship then drifted in rough seas for several days before authorities launched a bid to attach a tow line and stop it from hitting the French coast.
Dutch salvage experts were lowered by helicopter onto the vessel to try and attach the line.
They failed three times, with the cable snapping at one point, but on Monday they finally succeeded and a towboat started dragging the stricken ship away from France to Bilbao at the request of the vessel's owner, South Korean firm Cido Shipping.
By late Tuesday it was nearing Bilbao, according to Spanish authorities, who decided to delay the operation to bring it into port until daylight Wednesday.
© 2016 AFP