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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 January 2006, 10:20 GMT
Crews rescued after ships collide
French inspectors boarded the ship to check on damage
The crew of a chemical tanker has been rescued after a collision with a bulk carrier in the English Channel.

Twelve people have been rescued by the coastguard helicopter based at Lee-on-Solent and another 10 by the St Peter Port lifeboat from Guernsey.

The vessel Ece, which is carrying 10,000 tonnes of phosphoric acid, is listing heavily and said to be in danger of sinking.

A coastguard spokesman said the tanker was leaking.

Fred Caygill said the 8,000 tonne tanker was "significantly damaged", but dismissed fears that the chemical, widely used in the food industry, could harm the waters.

Map showing tanker collision

"Phosphoric acid does not pose a pollution threat. It has dissolved in the sea," he said.

The Maltese-registered carrier, General Grot-Rowecki, is believed to only be slightly damaged.

The alarm was raised at about 0220 GMT when the vessels collided about 30 miles north west of the Channel Island of Guernsey.

RAF Search and Rescue teams and coastguards from Guernsey and Alderney joined their French counterparts.

The crew abandoned the tanker, registered in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, and donned lifejackets as they waited for assistance.

Cenk Sakar
The boat was listing at least 30 degrees
First mate Cenk Sakar
All crew members, including one woman, have been taken to a reception centre in Guernsey where they are reported to be exhausted, but "in good heart".

One crew member, who spoke to BBC Guernsey, said the collision happened as both ships ran parallel to each other.

First mate Cenk Sakar, said: "The boat was listing at least 30 degrees when we were picked up by the lifeboat and helicopter."

The RAF Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre at RAF Kinloss said it had been a "textbook" rescue operation.

Flight Sgt Tim Dickinson told the BBC: "We were very fortunate because the sea conditions were benign.

"The rescue helicopter picked up 12 casualties while the lifeboat attended to the other 10."

The effect could be to fertilise the English Channel
Mark Dravers, marine biologist
A French tug will attempt to salvage the stricken tanker, which is listing heavily to port.

The French authorities, who are co-ordinating the rescue, have put two inspectors on board, assessing damage and spillage.

Mr Caygill said it was too early to say what had caused the accident.

"The English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world," he said.

He said the vessels had collided outside the traffic separation scheme, a stretch of water in the middle of the Channel.

'Benefit scallops'

The scheme allows for the separation of ships in two lanes travelling north east and south west.

An investigation is under way into the causes of the accident.

French fishing trawler Kleine Familie sank early this month, with the loss of five crew members, after colliding with a cargo ship in the same sector of the English Channel.

Guernsey oyster farmer and marine biologist Mark Dravers said the phospheric acid could actually benefit the marine environment.

He said: "It is one of the fertilisers we use in the medium for growing algae.

"The effect could be to fertilise the English Channel and benefit all our scallops.

"There could be some acidity around the ship, but generally I don't think there's anything to worry about from an environmental point of view."

Night-vision footage of the rescue

Collision ship's safety failures
31 Jan 06 |  Guernsey
'There's a near miss every trip'
09 Jan 03 |  UK News

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