February 1, 2016 / 8:55 PM / in 2 years

Distressed freighter off French coast towed to Bilbao

BORDEAUX, France (Reuters) - A stricken cargo ship drifting on its side off the French Atlantic coast was being towed to the Spanish port of Bilbao on Monday, local officials said.

The 164-metre Modern Express, which was transporting 3,600 tonnes of wood along with construction machinery from Gabon to France, had been drifting toward the coast since its crew was evacuated by helicopter last week.

The extreme incline of the ship as well as the difficult sea conditions had so far prevented teams from boarding and it would have hit the French shore on Monday or Tuesday if the salvage effort had failed.

However, four specialists boarded the ship on Monday as the weather improved and hooked a cable up to the vessel before being winched up into a helicopter.

“The ship is now far enough from the coast so we can rule out its running aground,” an official from the local prefecture said, adding that he expected the ship to arrive in Bilbao on Wednesday morning.

Officials believe its cargo may have shifted in heavy seas, causing it to list heavily to one side.

Reporting by Claude Cannelas in Bordeaux and Jonathan Gould in Frankfurt; Writing by Michel Rose in Paris; Editing by Alison Williams

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