British forces have rescued 347 passengers and crew from the French cruise ship "Le Boreal." A fire broke out on the vessel while it was sailing close to the British-ruled Falkland Islands.
UK officials and French operator Ponant said late on Thursday that the liner was just north of the Falklands, en route to South Georgia, a British territory in the South Atlantic, when the incident occurred on Wednesday.
"A fire of a technical nature broke out on the ship Le Boreal in a compartment of the engine room," Ponant said in a statement, adding that all passengers were evacuated from the ship as a "precaution."
Two Royal Air Force Sea King helicopters and two other support helicopters winched 79 people from the ship's deck and two life rafts in the water. Another two lifeboats, carrying more than 200 people, were also brought to safety by a Royal Navy vessel.
Commander of British forces for the South Atlantic Islands, Darren Bone, said the military organization responded with everything they had in order to assist in what he described as "an extremely complex and hazardous rescue operation in difficult conditions."
'Human tragedy' avoided
British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon also praised "the swift action" taken by Royal Navy and Royal Air Force crews, which he said "saved many lives and prevented [the situation] developing into a human tragedy."
Following their rescue, passengers and crew were taken to a British base on the Falkland Islands where they received clothing, food and medical attention.
ksb/bw (AFP, dpa)