Crew back on land after trawler burns

Crew members forced to abandon a burning trawler off the Canterbury coast have arrived back on dry land and been reunited with family and friends.

Crew abandons burning fishing boat

Crew abandons burning fishing boat

The 64-metre Amaltal Columbia, with 43 people on board, including two government observers, alerted the Rescue Coordination Centre to a fire in its hold about 5.20am on Wednesday.

The alert was upgraded to a mayday call at 6.20am.

Shortly after 8am, a Maritime NZ spokesman confirmed to NZ Newswire that the crew were abandoning the ship, following an order from its master.

The crew members were transferred to two vessels that had responded to the mayday call.

Rescuers battled tough conditions, with 30 knot winds and four metre swells.

Most of the crew arrived at Lyttelton Port on Wednesday afternoon where they were met by family and friends.

The remaining crew members are expected to arrive on the second vessel later on Wednesday.

No injuries have been reported.

The crew will be flown back to Nelson, where the vessel departed from.

The Amaltal Columbia will be towed into Lyttelton, where it is expected to dock about midnight.

Talley's Nelson CEO Tony Hazlett told Radio New Zealand the vessel was three weeks into a 45-day trip.

He said it's not yet known what impact the fire will have had on the catch on board.

"That all depends of course on whether the product has maintained its integrity and I'm simply not going to know that until we get the vessel under our control again and assess the situation."

From the outside, the vessel looks pretty good, Mr Hazlett said, but they need to find out how far the fire spread through the vessel and what damage was done.

Mr Hazlett said some crew members could be deployed on other vessels and the company would ensure they are looked after.

The Talley's-owned factory freezer trawler is described on the company's website as the flagship of its deep-sea trawling fleet.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has launched an inquiry into the fire.

It will begin a physical examination of the vessel on Thursday once it has been made safe.

An investigator will also travel to Nelson to interview company officials and crew members.

The TAIC inquiry will take up to a year to complete.