Two weeks after the evacuation of 98 of its 111 crew, the 344-foot fish-processing ship Athena was still standing off Falmouth, England, while salvors hosed down hot spots from a fire that had raced through 350,000 cardboard packing boxes.
The fire broke out on the processing deck about 6 a.m. Oct. 27, 230 miles southwest of the Scilly Isles. Nonessential crew abandoned Athena, climbing down ladders into 11 life rafts and leaving 13 on board to guide the ship to Cornwall while its sprinkler system knocked down the fire in the sealed processing area.
In a dramatic rescue operation, the Jamaica-bound container ship Vega - diverted to Athena by the Falmouth Coastguard - dropped ladders over the side so crew in the life rafts could climb up to safety. The Coastguard says the rescue came off without injury despite 5-foot swells and 25- to 30-mph winds.
On Oct. 28, a helicopter brought a team of marine firefighters from the Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service to the ship to assess the fire and the ship's stability. Cardboard boxes on two decks still were ablaze.
Later in the day, the fire intensified, sending thick smoke through the ship and rupturing a refrigeration pipe that spewed ammonia into the air. That, along with dangerously high readings of carbon monoxide, triggered a second evacuation just off the Port of Falmouth. A lifeboat from the volunteer Royal National Lifeboat Institution and a military training ship, the Valonia, removed the fire equipment and the remaining crew and firefighters - 28 in all - while the Coastguard tug Anglian Princess towed Athena to a more protected location five miles off Falmouth.
As of Nov. 8, a consortium of salvors - the Dutch firm Smit International and the British JP Knights - had put a team aboard Athena to put out the last of the fire and develop a plan to salvage the ship. Registered in Denmark's Faroe Islands, Athena is owned by Thor Ltd., a Faroese oil and fisheries service company.