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Cargo ship ablaze in English Channel

BRIGHTON, England -- British firefighters are being airlifted to a burning transport ship carrying several tonnes of hazardous cargo.

A Dover Coastguard spokesman told CNN that the Antigua-registered Wester Till is on fire in the English Channel.

He said it is anchored three miles off Beachy Head, near Brighton, Sussex, on England's south coast.

At least two lifeboats, a helicopter and a coastguard fire-fighting vessel are at the scene.

The helicopter crew reported smoke "billowing" from the ship, the Press Association reported.

The coastguard said one of the ship's holds has been drenched with CO2 in an attempt to contain the fire.

The spokesman said the Wester Till was en route from Antwerp, in Belgium, to Tunisa on Sunday when a fire broke out below deck.

He said: "The situation is on-going as we speak.

"We have Sussex Fire Brigade firefighters about to be airlifted by helicopter on board to assess the situation.

"The vessel is carrying hazardous materials. Lifeboats are standing by and are ready to evacuate the ship at a moment's notice."

Thirteen crew members are on board, but there are no reports of injuries.

A UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency statement said: "Dover Coastguard received a call from the Wester Till, which is a roll-on roll-off container vessel, stating that they had a fire in one of the holds.

"Dover Coastguard requested a coastguard rescue helicopter which was transitting the area at the time to the scene and also requested the launch of lifeboats to the scene.

"Vessels in the area have also been tasked by the coastguard to standby the stricken vessel."

It is the second major incident involving a cargo vessel in the English Channel in 24 hours.

On Saturday, a tanker carrying 15,000 tonnes of molten sulphur caught fire.

The blaze started in the engine room of the Kaliope as it sailed 30 miles north east of Dover.

The on-board firefighting system extinguished the blaze and none of the ship's 18 crew were injured.




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