Rescuers battle 'horrendous' weather to tow tanker

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The Independent Online

Rescue workers were battling "horrendous" weather today as they towed a stricken tanker with 13 crew aboard to safety.

The 11,000-tonne tanker, Astral, dragged anchor and ran aground in stormy weather this morning.

The Swedish vessel was heading for the Esso oil refinery in Fawley with a cargo of gas oil when it ran into trouble off the Isle of Wight.

The ship's rudder was damaged after hitting a large shallow bank near Bembridge at around 7am.

Two Coastguard tugs and an RNLI lifeboat, with six crew aboard, were dispatched in force 11 winds to help the stricken tanker.

The vessel, with its 13 crew still aboard, was anchored while a line was attached and the boat was being towed to Fawley.

A Solent Coastguard spokesman said: "The weather is horrendous at the moment.

"The sea conditions are rough with waves up to three and a half foot and a wind speed of severe gale force nine, giving off 46 knots, and we are not even in high tide yet."

Forecasters warned Solent Coastguard to expect winds up to violent storm force 11 along with high tides this afternoon.

Steven Mann, watch assistant, said: "We have winds increasing and the tide coming back in.

"It could increase the wave height and make working conditions on board more treacherous.

"The extra wind means you can't hear each other. If it gets really bad we will have to reassess the situation."

John Keyworth, Bembridge RNLI spokesman, said the 47ft Tyne class lifeboat has returned to shore.

He added: "Where it's under tow it's considered to be in safe hands.

"It was horrendous conditions when we launched. We then went through the eye of the storm and the weather is just starting to get really bad now."

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