Crew rescued from a fishing vessel on fire off the Canterbury coast were "freaking out" while they waited to be taken off the ship.
Thirty nine members of the crew have been fed and given fresh clothes in Lyttelton after their vessel, the Amaltal Columbia, caught fire in the early hours of the morning.
The fire started in the fishmeal plant in the bottom of the boat and the captain sent a mayday call at around 5.30am which was picked up by another fishing vessel. The Ivan Goublets immediately made an emergency dash to rescue the crew of the stricken ship.
"We were standing up in the cold and smoke for a couple of hours," crew member Bridie Sinclair told ONE News.
"We were bloody tired and freaking out, you know, pretty scary thing to have to happen, fire's the worst thing that could happen on a boat."
Attempts to put out the fire failed, and at around 7.50am the captain gave the order to abandon ship. The crew were uninjured and boarded liferafts before being picked up by the Goublets for the trip back to shore.
"Smoke everywhere, it was really hard to breathe," Sinclair said. "Yeah, it was quite scary up there for a time. The waves were pounding everywhere."
The ship arrived back in Lyttelton this afternoon returning 39 of the crew to shore while four other crew members, including the captain and the first mate, headed back out to the damaged vessel to tow it back to port.
"It's obviously a stressful situation for all the crew and we will be looking after them," Talley's Nelson Division CEO Tony Hazlett said.
"The intention is to get those crew back to Nelson or back to their homes as soon as we can."
The rescued fishermen had been out at sea for three weeks and were to be flown back to Nelson this evening. Some will be interviewed by maritime authorities.
The Columbia is expected to arrive in Lyttelton in the early hours of the morning and will be investigated by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission.
Hazlett said he has flown over the ship and hopes it will be salvaged.
"There was still a small amount of smoke coming from the vessel, it's sitting at about a five degree list, but to me it looks very salvageable," he told reporters.
Garden City Helicopter pilot Stuart Farquar spent an hour and a half hovering over the boat this morning and said the evacuation was completed safely.
"Not too much drama, a lot of smoke from time to time coming out of the vessel, there appeared to be a lot of smoke coming out of the engine exhaust which stopped, I assume when the engine stopped as well," he told ONE News.
Initially Farquar said he was called in to take firefighters out to the vessel, but that plan changed when it emerged the fire was too fierce to be put out and the crew should be evacuated instead.
The Columbia was four hours off Lyttelton and had lost all power and steering. Hotspots could be seen along the 64-metre ship's hull from the air.
The crew were trained and drilled in fire safety. Some had got to the seat of the fire and fought it until their breathing gear was exhausted.
The meal hold had been sealed off to starve the fire of oxygen.
Fire Service assistant area manager for Tasman-Marlborough, Rob Allan, said ships had a similar evacuation plan to any building on land, so there were particular areas people would be evacuated to.
Crew members also underwent training in ship firefighting, so they would be able to initially carry out some parts of the task, he said.
"Part of their training to get their tickets is firefighting skills and I can assure you they take it extremely seriously. You can't jump out a window and walk away there."
The Columbia was being captained by Chris Fitzpatrick, from Nelson, who Talley's Group managing director Peter Talley said was "our top skipper".
Talley's had owned the Columbia for 20 years, taking the ship "brand new out of the shipyard in Norway", he said.
The Transport Accident Investigation Commission had opened an inquiry into the fire, which is expected to take a year to complete.
The Amaltal Columbia
The Amaltal Columbia and sister ship Amaltal Atlantis were two of the biggest deep sea trawlers in the Talley's fleet.
They were factory ships and most of their crews, drawn from the Nelson region and around New Zealand, work in the factories, which produce fillets of various grades frozen and packed, with the remains of the fish rendered down into powdered fish meal in a cooking process.
A full hold contained 550 tons of processed fish and 160 tonnes of fishmeal. Trips averaged 45 days.
The two boats had just had a highly successful season in the West Coast hoki fishery.
Talley's was recognised across the fishing industry for the high standard of maintenance on its vessels.
This is not the first time the vessel has been in trouble - at
8.15am on September 3, 2005 the Amaltal Columbia grounded about 100
metres northwest of the Town Wharf berth at Bluff. It was refloated
later that morning.