A SKIPPER was forced to abandon ship after his fishing boat burst into flames and exploded.
The lone sailor got into trouble when his vessel, the Margaret Rose, caught fire six miles off the coast of Littlehampton.
With flames and smoke rising high into the air and engulfing his boat, the fisherman jumped off his 28ft craft with an inflatable life-raft and watched in dismay as the wrecked vessel slowly disappeared beneath the waves, on Thursday (November 28).
Jenna Smith, watch officer for the Solent Coastguard Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre, said: “This was a very dangerous situation and required a swift response.
“The boat was well alight and very hazardous, as it was carrying around 150 litres of diesel and two gas canisters.”
The fisherman, who had set off just after dawn, was off the coast of Littlehampton when he noticed small flames on his fibreglass vessel.
He tried desperately to combat the fire and quell the blaze.
However, it soon spread to the fuel and gas canisters, which exploded moments later.
The man, who is believed to be from Hove, had no time to grab his radio before jumping overboard with his life-raft into the cold waters. Once the raft was inflated, he used his mobile phone to dial 999 to raise the alarm.
RNLI lifeboat crews from Littlehampton and Shoreham were scrambled to aid the stricken sailor, along with the coastguard helicopter.
Lifeboat volunteers from Littlehampton arrived moments before the coastguard helicopter.
They plucked the shocked, but otherwise unharmed, fisherman from the water and escorted him back to shore where he was assessed by medical staff.
The crew from Shoreham remained by the boat’s floating, smouldering remains to ensure it was not a risk to other sailors nearby.
Nick White, lifeboat operations manager for the RNLI in Littlehampton, said this was a dramatic incident that was well dealt with by the volunteer lifeboat crews.
Nick said: “It looked very dramatic with a large plume of smoke but the conditions were not that difficult for us. It’s not like in Hollywood where there is a massive explosion. But, obviously, life was at risk. So it was a very satisfying job to deal with.”