THE coxwain of Exmouth RNLI has spoken about the dramatic operation to prevent the sinking of two vessels in Lyme Bay.
At around 9.30pm on Sunday, January 13, the six-strong crew was asked to help save the 70-metre tugboat Christos XXII and the 80-metre ship Emstrom it was towing.
Both boats, which were en-route from Germany to Turkey, were taking on water after colliding.
Tim Mock, RNLI coxwain, described the situation, which involved the Torbay RNLI rescuing the eight crewmen, as very serious when they arrived at the scene off Hopes Nose, Torquay.
The crew from Exmouth joined in the operation which involved the team providing a pump to get the water out of the Christos, for around five hours until around 2.30am.
Navy personnel from the nearby warship HMS Lancaster assisted in plugging the leak in the tug.
"When we got there the situation was very serious," said Mr Mock. "Both vessels were becoming flooded and were sinking.
"When a boat is hit below the water line it doesn't take a big hole for a lot of water to come in.
"When we arrived the towed vessel had been cast adrift and Torbay lifeboat had got the crewmen off so we provided a pump to pump the water out.
"Getting them down the ladders and into the compartment and rigging the hoses up was not the easiest of tasks.
"This took about an hour and all the time the boat was getting lower.
"The captain and the chief engineer were both left on board when the crew were off.
"The worst thing that could have happened would have been for the boat to roll over trapping the salvage guys on board."
He added: "We were watching the load line the whole time, which was under water for most of the time.
"This was a calculated risk and it was about at what point to get the crew out. We were very concerned for the Navy personnel but the situation was static as they managed to plug part of the hole.
"The water flow was stemmed by a salvage tug MTS Vulcan that arrived from Portland with a much bigger pump.
"When the water level was reduced and the pumps were taken off, that was the end of our part.
"We then went to the vessel that was drifting and watched the crew that went aboard to fix the tow lines as it was tipping heavily.
"Our only consideration was for the personnel on board, not the vessels."
"It was a combined effort to save the boats from sinking – you don't want two large vessels sinking in the bay," added Mr Mock. "Had the weather been different it would have been a different ball game, we were lucky it was calm."