Sailors rescued from stricken boat amid fears of toxic spillage off coast
Coastguards and the Royal Navy raced against the clock to stop 200 tonnes of diesel leaking from a sinking tug boat and polluting some of the Westcountry's best beaches.
The operation began after the Christos XXII tugboat was struck by the ex-German Naval training ship it had been towing off the coast of Devon, at 9pm on Sunday night.
The Christos was towed across Lyme Bay to Portland overnight, and was expected to enter the harbour there later today
A 40cm gash was torn in the side of the Christos, which immediately began to take on water.
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Crew members rushed to repair the tear with wooden pegs before making a Mayday call at 9.30pm.
Coastguards rescued all eight sailors uninjured from the stricken ship and they were flown to shore, where locals have put them up until arrangements are made to send them home.
A salvage operation involving divers was then launched to stop both vessels from sinking and dumping toxic fuel on along the popular coastline.
Coastguards feared any spillage could pollute beaches and have a huge impact on local birds and wildlife across Torbay.
An inflatable pollution control boom was erected around the sinking ships to try to contain any diesel.
Brixham Coastguard initially said the Christos was carrying 200 tonnes of diesel oil and listing at 35 to 40 degrees.
As the operation continued, at around 1.30pm yesterday, the destined-for-scrap Emsstrom, which had been listing too heavily for salvors to get onboard, sank approximately 2.5 nautical miles east by north from Hope's Nose, in 23 metres of water.
A spokesman for the coastguard said she had "gradually sunk over the course of the morning, adding that there were "no hazardous materials on board" and she had been "stripped down and contained no fuel".
However, by mid-afternoon confidence grew that the Christos had been stabilised and by early evening a plan to tow the boat to Portland harbour was under way.
The spokesman added: "The Emsstrom sank in deep water close to two other wrecks and poses no hazard to shipping – it was attached to 800 metres of steel cable and should go straight down.
"The main aim was to save the tug as it was a working vessel – it looks to be stabilised but the harbour is not deep enough to bring it into Torbay so it will go to Portland."
The 70-metre Christos had been towing the empty Emsstrom from Germany to Turkey when it tried to anchor a mile off Hope's Nose in Torbay amid fears the hull was taking on water.
But the ship it was pulling smashed into the Christos, punching a hole in its side.
A helicopter from Royal Marines Base Chivenor was used to transport salvage pumps to the scene.
Two lifeboats were presentwith HMS Lancaster and the navy vessel HMS Severn and a second tug, the MTS Vulcan, was also standing by.
Royal Navy ships were ready to start pumping diesel out of the water.
RNLI spokesman Mark Criddle said: ''Our priority was making sure all the people on board were accounted for and that we could get them off if we needed to."