HALIFAX - Panic and desperation turned to grateful relief Sunday after a Canadian Coast Guard ship rescued all 22 people from a burning Spanish fishing trawler in the North Atlantic.
The vessel Leonard J. Cowley was conducting a routine fisheries patrol about 400 kilometres southeast of St. John's, N.L., when it received a distress call from the Monte Galineiro, a 30-metre trawler.
Capt. Derek LeRiche said the Crowley had been slowly approaching the Spanish trawler with plans to send fisheries inspectors on board when he received the mayday.
He called it a ''bit of luck'' for the desperate mariners that his ship was only minutes away.
''We were thinking of doing a boarding on her anyway,'' LeRiche explained by telephone from his ship.
''All the cards were in line that we were so close.''
Within 10 minutes of receiving the call, the coast guard ship arrived just as the Spanish fishermen were leaping into the water or sliding into life-rafts to escape the burning trawler, which was listing precariously to one side.
''Some jumped and some got launched in their life-rafts,'' said LeRiche. ''Some jumped with life-jackets, some without.
''It was pretty dramatic when you see a ship sinking and people being launched in a life-raft, people jumping off the side. It's a pretty dramatic scene.''
Within seconds, the panicked mariners - some wearing neoprene survival suits and others in regular clothing - were thrashing in the ocean and calling for help.
''Everything happened quite fast,'' said LeRiche, who quickly ordered the launch of a rapid rescue craft.
''We managed to pick them up quite fast, and most didn't have ill effects of the water temperature,'' he said.
One crewman who spent too long in the frigid water had hypothermia and was treated on board. Another person suffering from smoke inhalation was evacuated from the ship by helicopter and flown to hospital in St. John's.
Only a portion of the trawler was above water when the Canadian ship left the scene.
LeRiche said the rescued crew - 21 men and one woman - were extremely grateful to be saved.
''They were quite happy to get on board the ship. You can imagine now,'' he said with a chuckle.