The UK Coastguard co-ordinated the rescue of 22 crew from a merchant vessel in gale force weather conditions in the Bay of Biscay yesterday afternoon.

The 33,000 tonne cargo vessel, carrying mainly timber, broadcast a mayday message at 12.20pm yesterday, 26 January, alerting HM Coastguard that it was in difficulty within the UK search and rescue region.

The vessel reported that the cargo had shifted and that it was listing up to 50° degrees to starboard.

The Coastguard broadcast a mayday relay message and several vessels made their way to the scene. The Spanish Search and Rescue services sent four helicopters and one fixed wing aircraft to the scene and airlifted the crew to safety on the Spanish mainland.

Matthew West for the UK Coastguard said: ‘When we first received the mayday, we were very concerned for the safety of the crew. The ship was listing badly and there was a danger it would capsize, all of which was made worse by gale force 8 winds and extremely rough seas.

‘We worked with the Spanish search and rescue authorities and airlifted the crew to safety. Coordination is being passed to the French Authorities to deal with the ongoing salvage effort.’

gCaptain reports that the cargo ship, called Modern Express, was located 148 miles off Cape Ortegal.

All 22 crew members of the ship were evacuated by two Spanish helicopters. Sixteen crew members have been brought to La Coruña airport in northwestern Spain. Another 6 crew were transferred to Celeiro in Portugal. All are in good condition.