May 28 - On the evening of May 25 smoke was detected in the cargo hold of the multipurpose vessel Purple Beach, which is operated by Hamburg-headquartered MACS Maritime Carrier Shipping.

The ship's own carbon dioxide extinguishing system was used by the crew to suppress the fire, and the cargo hold concerned was sealed as an immediate counter measure, said MACS. The crew has since been evacuated and brought to safety.

Since May 26, the Central Command for Maritime Emergencies Germany (CCME) has taken over command of the fire-fighting operations and all further actions, but MACS says it is supporting the rescue team in all available resources.

A fire-fighting unit of the CCME and the multipurpose vessel Mellum have been accompanying Purple Beach at deep water roads anchorage in the German Bight, about 30 km west of Helgoland.

The CCME continues to examine the vessel, which was loaded with fertilisers in the port of Antwerp. The Atlantic Task Force (ATF) has also been alerted.

Measures taken should provide an overall impression of the vessel to the CCME in order to determine further steps, said MACS. The ship operator added that it is already in negotiation for another charter vessel, and will announce the substitute ship shortly.