The crew of a Royal Navy frigate has rescued 27 people from a burning container ship.
HMS Argyll was returning home to Plymouth, Devon when she was called to assist the Grande America 150 miles off the French coast on Sunday night.
The ship’s cargo of containers and cars had caught fire forcing its crew to abandon ship and board a lifeboat that was then damaged in rough conditions.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “I commend her crew”.
The rescue operation lasted eight hours, with the crew being taken to the French port of Brest.
Some needed hospital treatment, but there were no life-threatening injuries.
Mr Williamson said: “HMS Argyll’s swift and selfless response to a very dangerous situation in difficult conditions undoubtedly saved 27 lives. I commend her crew.”
Lt Cdr Dave Tetchner, the Argyll’s Weapon Engineer Officer, said the lifeboat was “bobbing around like a cork in a bathtub.”
“It was pretty awful for them – they’d had to fight a fire in dreadful seas. Every one of them suffered smoke inhalation.
“Then they faced the prospect of abandoning ship and then their lifeboat failed. It was pretty awful all round and they were shocked.”
The Argyll is on the final leg of a nine-month trip to the Asia-Pacific region.
Two hundred sailors and Royal Marines are onboard and due home to Devonport in Plymouth on Friday.
Commanding Officer of the Argyll, Cdr Toby Shaughnessy, said: “Without doubt this was a near-run thing.
“The conditions were on the limit for recovery and this could just as easily been a different result.
“It was an exceptional team effort and there’s a great feeling on board after a successful result – everyone was saved.”