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Tanker Collides with Trawler, Catches Fire

January 24, 1986

YARMOUTH, England (AP) _ A Greek tanker loaded with crude oil collided with a Dutch fishing trawler and burst into flames in the stormy North Sea today, British government spokesmen said. No deaths were reported.

All but three of 31 crewmen from the 76,000-ton Orleans abandoned ship and were plucked to safety from rafts by Royal Navy helicopters in an operation initially hampered by high winds and smoke, Defense Minstry spokesman Nigel Gillies said. The captain and two others stayed aboard but were in no danger.

Gillies said the trawler, identified as the 295-ton Jan van Toon, was not badly damaged and no one aboard was hurt. The size of its crew was not immediately known.

A Dutch tug, Smitllowd 123, secured a towline to the Greek tanker at one stage, but the line broke and the Orleans was drifting slowly in surging seas, said Transport Department spokesman Allan George.

The burning tanker drifted to within five miles of a Shell accommodation facility, the Dyvigamma, at the construction site of a gas rig, said John Brown, a spokesman for Shell U.K. Exploration and Production in Aberdeen, Scotland.

He said 55 workmen were evacuated from the Dyvigamma onto a nearby mobile platform, the Safe Concordia, but were later returned to the accommodation facility.

Brown said 450 other workmen were aboard the Safe Concordia, which is capable of moving away from a danger area on its own power.

The Transport Department had erroneously reported earlier that 460 men were evacuated from two gas rigs in the area.

George said the tanker was loaded with light-grade crude oil and that there was no immediate threat of pollution. He said the oil was dispersing and drifting away from the coastline.

Officials said the accident occurred about 80 miles northeast of Cromer, a North Sea port 20 miles north of Norwich in southcentral England.

Coast Guard spokesman Tim Pickard said in Yarmouth that the leaking oil appeared to be burning off quickly on the water, and that two Coast Guard firefighting vessels were sent to the area.

The Orleans was reported loaded with about 550,000 barrels of crude oil, but a Transport Department spokesman said, ″Pollution at this stage does not seem to be a threat. The oil is being dispersed and is drifting away from the ... coastline.″

Much of the Orleans’ forward section appeared engulfed in flames at one stage, but Gillies said it was later found that the fire burned only intermittently.

Lloyd’s Shipping Intelligence, which monitors ship movements worldwide, said the Orleans left Sullom Voe oil depot in the Shetland Islands north of Scotland Wednesday and was headed for the Fawley refinery on England’s southern coast.

Pickard said the seamen from the Orleans were taken by the helicopters to a hospital near Yarmouth.

The Sea King helicopter first on the scene ordered the Orleans’ crew to abandon ship because of the fire, Pickard said.

Merchant ships also sped to the site to help. High winds and flames and smoke from the vessel initially hampered the operation.

Lloyd’s said it picked up the first distress signals at about 7:15 a.m. (2:15 a.m. EST).

The British Broadcasting Corp. said one Sea King helicopter involved in the rescue effort got into trouble when its winch cable was blown into rotor blades, and the helicopter had to land on an oil rig.

Lloyd’s identified the Orleans as a Greek-registered vessel owned by Liberty Trading Ltd. and managed by Le Timon Transport Co.

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