Kolkata: The Coast Guard today rescued all 22 crew members of a domestic container ship that caught fire near Sandheads in the Bay of Bengal at around midnight, a senior official said here.

The container vessel named 'MV SSL Kolkata' caught fire and went adrift about 55 nautical miles from Sandheads anchorage near the confluence of the Bay of Bengal and the Hooghly river. All the 22 crew members were rescued by the Coast Guard this morning amid rough sea and inclement weather, Coast Guard Commander (NE) Inspector General K S Sheoran said.

A Coast Guard ship and one of its Dornier Aircraft were despatched from its base at Haldia Port which reached the ship early this morning, Sheoran said. "All the 22 survivors including the captain of the ship were picked up by the Coast Guard vessel," he said. The container vessel was carrying 10683.51 metric tonne of containerized cargo to Kolkata from Krishnapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, Sanjoy Mukherjee, a Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) spokesman, said. "The ship reported fire on deck cargo containing chemicals at about 11 pm last night," the spokesman said.

Indian Coast Guard ship 'Rajkiran' was mobilized from Haldia for rendering necessary assistance immediately after receiving report of the fire on the merchant vessel. KoPT tug Ocean Valour, having external fire fighting capability was also mobilized, but the fire could not be controlled and the crew abandoned the vessel, Mukherjee said. "ICGS Rajkiran has since rescued all crew members and the KoPT tug is near vicinity of the abandoned vessel," he said.

The vessel was drifting in south east direction, further away from port channel and necessary actions were being taken in co-ordination with the Coast Guard, the Indian Navy and the Directorate General of Shipping, he said. "The Coast Guard is mobilizing two firefighting vessels from Vizag and equipment for combating the fire and possible oil spillage in addition to monitoring the vessel through a Dornier aircraft," he said.

No oil spillage has been reported till now, the spokesman said, adding that another tug with pollution response equipment has been kept on stand by for combating pollution. The KoPT official said owners of the vessel have also been requested to arrange for salvage and pollution response vessels and equipment urgently. The authorities concerned of the West Bengal government have also been appraised. "We are also seeking assistance of National Remote Sensing Centre for tracking of oil slick in the event of spillage," he said.

The Navy had also despatched a Sea king 42C helicopter and a Dornier aircraft from Vizag at daybreak to assist in the search and rescue operation, but were informed while airborne that the container ship was located and rescue operation had been initiated by the Coast Guard vessel, a Defence official said. The Navy aircrafts were later asked to head back to Vizag via the adrift merchant ship, he said. (PTI)