About a week ago, a cargo carrier, called Modern Express and registered in Panama, sent out a distress signal saying the ship was listing badly - 40 to 50 degrees (that's really badly!) - likely due to the cargo of "diggers" shifting in the hold.
She was also carrying 3,600 tons of timber. She had departed Gabon in West Africa and was headed for Le Havre in Normandy (France). She also had some 300 tons of fuel in her tanks. The ship is 164 meters long.
So the crew, fearing a capsize, abandoned the ship - they were airlifted off her - and left her drifting in the Bay of Biscay in horrendous weather.
Raging winds and six-metre (20ft) waves made rescue efforts over the weekend impossible. And the ship continued to drift toward the coast of France.
Officials believe its cargo may have shifted in heavy seas, causing it to list heavily to one side. I believe the crew might have mentioned this in their distress call!
Until today, (Monday) efforts to land men aboard and get the hulk under tow have proved fruitless due to the extreme weather, but finally, helicopters managed to get a team of 4 men aboard to attach a second tow line (the first one parted in the frightful conditions. The ship is now under tow, away from the coast. She is being escorted by a French warship, several tugs, and aircraft.
If the towing operation fails, the ship will likely crash on the coast of the Bay of Arcachon where it will be cut apart and scrapped.
The men involved in the rescue of the ship were quoted as saying: "The difficulty is a combination of several things: the wind, the swell, and the angle of the deck which is like climbing a mountain, but which is moving."
Smit Salvage, a Dutch company specializing in such scenarios, is running the operation and the tug currently attached to Modern Express is of Spanish registry. When the towline was finally attached, Modern Express was just 27 miles from the French Coast.
The unstinting effort by French, Dutch, and Spanish mariners in successfully averting the potential disaster is a fine example of "pressing on." We can only hope they continue to experience good fortune and make it safely to port.
Until next time,