Lowestoft skipper describes how catamaran burst into flame

Michael Latham skippers of the ECC Topaz which sank on Tuesday
He also is managing director of East Coast Charters Michael Latham skippers of the ECC Topaz which sank on Tuesday He also is managing director of East Coast Charters

Thursday, January 16, 2014
8:29 AM

The skipper of a Lowestoft-based catamaran that burst into flames and sank nine miles out to sea has described how he and his two-man crew escaped from the burning vessel.

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Michael Latham was aboard the 15m long windfarm transfer vessel ECC Topaz on a sea trial on Tuesday when he saw smoke billowing out of her wheelhouse.

After trying to put out the fire Mr Latham and the crew were forced to leave the catamaran in a life-raft and they were winched to safety by a RAF search and rescue helicopter before the ECC Topaz sank beneath the waves.

Mr Latham, who also owns East Coast Charters, which operated the ECC Topaz, said: “I looked back to the wheelhouse and I could see smoke coming out of it.

“Soon it was just gone.

“There was thick black smoke rolling up to the ceiling.

“I shouted to the two lads and then grabbed a fire extinguisher, but it did not really help.

“We got into the life-raft and when I looked back I could see smoke coming out of the door. We started to paddle and got about 15 metres away.”

Normally there would have been two crew on the ECC Topaz, but she also had an engineer on board for the sea trials – a fact that may have helped Mr Latham and the other crew member escape without injury.

He said: “The tide and the winds were taking us back to the ECC Topaz. If there were just two of us paddling we probably have been pushed back.

“It was the third bloke on board that made the difference.”

Mr Latham said it took 45 minutes for the ECC Topaz to sink and he described the whole experience as “unbelievable”.

It is believed she is 40m down on the seabed.

Mr Latham said the fire

may have started in a heater

and lessons would be learned for the current fleet of two other vessels.

Yesterday the other two crew members were also back at work and the Marine Accident Investigation Branch had contacted East Coast Charters to start its inquiries, which Mr Latham said could be completed in six to nine months’ time.

Mr Latham set up East Coast Charters in 2001.

The Heath Road-based company has six staff.

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