Navy helicopter in Atlantic rescue

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The Independent Online

A Royal Navy frigate was yesterday involved in the rescue of five Romanian seamen who were winched from mountainous seas hundreds of miles out into the Atlantic.

As weather conditions deteriorated and it appeared that the 4,000-tonne cargo vessel Covasna might sink, the master and crew had to jump overboard so that the warship's Lynx helicopter could pick them up.

Last night, all the crew were well and HMS Northumberland was standing by the stricken vessel awaiting the arrival of a salvage tug.

The British ship was diverted from its passage to the South Atlantic when Covasna sent out a distress call after its engines failed during a storm 300 miles south-west of Cape Finisterre.

The Romanian ship reported early on Sunday that 17 of its crew had abandoned ship, five in a liferaft and 12 in a lifeboat.

A nearby Russian tankerpicked up those in the lifeboat. However, because of the state of the seas, it took a number of attempts to rescue those on board the liferaft.

At first light yesterday, Northumberland's helicopter surveyed Covasna to see whether it was possible to lift the remaining five men to safety. But with 30ft waves breaking over the deck, it was decided that it would be safer for the men to don survival suits and be winched from the sea.