43 crew rescued from blazing New Zealand trawler

All 43 crew from the stricken New Zealand fishing trawler Amaltal Columbia arrived safely on shore Wednesday telling of a "scary" ordeal as a fire swept through their ship.

The crew were forced to take to liferafts in a four-metre (13-foot) swell after the captain gave the order to abandon ship when hours of trying to contain the early morning blaze proved fruitless.

Seven hours later they were back in New Zealand after being plucked from their liferafts by a Russian trawler Ivan Golubets.

"We're just in shock. I don't really know what to say. I'm just really glad everybody is fine," crew member Louise Kissana told reporters.

"It was scary, you imagine climbing down the side of your ship in the middle of nowhere in rough weather."

Kissana, among the first 39 crew members to arrive at the South Island port of Lyttleton near the city of Christchurch, said it was a relief to see the Ivan Golubets come to their rescue.

"It was one time we were quite thankful to see the Russians coming."

Another crewman, who did not wish to be identified, said they were unable to get the fire under control, no matter how hard they tried.

"We started out fighting the fire with hoses and that sort of stuff and then a few hours into it we had to get into the liferafts," he said.

The Amaltal Columbia was more than 70 kilometres (44 miles) from Christchurch when the fire broke out early Wednesday.

The captain, Chris Patrick, sent out an "urgency call" at 5:24 am which was later upgraded to a "Mayday" as the fire, which started in the stern of the vessel, spread quickly.

Patrick and three other crewmen remained on the Amaltal Columbia as long as they could before transferring to another trawler which had steamed to the rescue.

Peter Talley, the head of the company that owns the Amaltal Columbia, described his flagship as a "fireball from the bow to the stern" at the height of the blaze.

New Zealand search and rescue coordinator Tracy Brickles said the safe transfer of all crew from the burning vessel was an excellent result.

"The priority in these situations is always the safety of the crew. This is a good result in difficult conditions with winds of 30 knots and a swell of four metres."

Talley told Fairfax News the fire was "an absolute disaster, but everyone's OK, there's no panic there at all".

The Amaltal Columbia has lost all power and steering and the company said it would be towed to Christchurch.

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