Thirty-eight workers were rescued from a barge in the Solway Firth last night after it began to capsize.
One of the biggest rescue operations ever in the area got under way just after 7.50pm when the Coastguard received a distress call saying the jack-up barge Lisa, working on the controversial Robin Rigg wind farm being built in the area, developed a list of between 30 and 35 degrees.
Two rescue helicopters from HMS Gannet at Prestwick in Ayrshire and RAF Boulmer in Northumberland were scrambled to the scene. Liverpool Coastguard said RNLI lifeboats from Workington and Silloth were also despatched to join two tugs that were working in the area to help evacuate all personnel on board.
The crew included workers from Britain, Holland, India, the Phillipines and Poland.
The Rotterdam-based barge arrived on the Solway last week. It was to install foundations for 60 420ft-high wind turbines being developed in a £325m project for E.ON.
A spokesman for the RAF Rescue and Co-ordination Centre in Kinloss said all but one of the personnel on board the barge was lowered to surface vessels using an on board crane, with the crane driver, who was the last person to leave the barge, needing to be winched on to a rescue helicopter.
A spokesman for Liverpool Coastguard said a decision was taken to evacuate the personnel to surface vessels rather than winch them on to the rescue helicopters in the dark.
He said 37 personnel transferred to tugs were being taken to Maryport in Cumbria where a “landing centre” was established to receive them. All on board were rescued within around one hour.
A spokesman said: “No-one was injured. The barge is secure at the moment.
There are no reports of any pollution.”
It is understood that the jack-up barge, owned by a Dutch company called Smit which also operates safety vessels in the area, only arrived on the Solway last week.
It was working in the middle of the Solway Firth, seven miles from Kippford, in Dumfries and Galloway, and Maryport.
The former Scottish Executive gave the go-ahead for Robin Rigg, which would be Scotland’s first offshore wind farm, in March 2003. Once up and running, it will generate enough energy to power more than 100,000 homes.
No-one from Smit or E.ON could be contacted for comment last night.
However, a Coastguard spokesman explained that the jack-up barge has four legs. He said when the vessel is located in the right position the legs are jacked down on to the sea bed to allow work to begin.
The spokesman said E.ON had told him that the legs of the jack-up barge appeared to have punctured the sea bed, causing them to bend and the vessel to list badly.
By William Tinning
17 September 2007
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