SYDNEY, June 8, 2007 (AFP) – Rescue helicopters braved wild weather to airlift 21 crew members from a stricken freighter as pounding seas threatened to beach others on Australia’s east coast Friday. The Filipino and Korean crew on board the 30,000-tonne coal carrier Pasha Bulker, which ran aground off Newcastle harbour north of Sydney, were winched from the deck one by one and flown ashore, officials said.
Tugboats headed out to help the carrier, which an eyewitness said had monstrous waves crashing over the deck.
“It’s getting absolutely belted at the moment, it’s an amazing sight, the spray coming right over the top of this huge tanker,” the witness told Australian radio.
There were concerns for several other ships off the coast as waves reached a reported height of 17 metres, New South Wales Ports Minister Joe Tripodi said.
One of the ships, Sea Confidence, was in distress off Stockton Beach north of Newcastle.
“It’s got its engines at full speed trying to get away from the coastline but it’s being dragged towards the coastline and will run aground, we expect soon,” he said.
The national transport ministry said the Sea Confidence and a second ship, Bitis, were both