A LAST-DITCH attempt to save an ocean-going tug from sinking off Tor Bay looked to be paying off today.
Rescuers trying to prevent the vessel from sinking said they were confident of being able to keep the tug afloat.
A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said this afternoon that the tug Christos XXII is now stable with the risk of pollution very low.
However, the former German Naval training ship the Emsstrom, which had been listing too heavily for salvors to get onboard, sank just after 1pm, approximately 2.5 nautical miles east by north from Hope’s Nose, in 23 metres of water.
This ship is empty and is not a pollution risk.
Torbay lifeboat had been at the scene late on Sunday night along with the Exmouth lifeboat and two Royal Navy ships - including Plymouth's HMS Severn, and concerted efforts were made to pump water out of the stricken ship, the 70-metre Christos.
Images from the RNLI and Don Proctor. Chart created from shipfinder.co website at 11.40pm. The two red objects closest to Hopes Nose are the Torbay and Exmouth lifeboats. The others are the Royal Navy vessels involved in the operation.
The Greek-registered Christos was abandoned just before midnight and had been expected to sink in shallow water just off Hopes Nose within an hour.
However, the tug Brent was brought alongside with larger pumps, and water levels inside the Christos were finally said to be falling.
The intention was to tow the tug away.
The Torbay lifeboat took eight crew members back to the Brixham RNLI boathouse.
HMS Severn and Lancaster were the Navy ships at the scene, along with an RAF rescue helicopter from the Royal Marines base at Chivenor in North Devon.
Brixham Coastguard co-ordinated the efforts to save the Christos.
Torbay lifeboat's on-scene commander, John Heal, called for all non-essential crew to be taken off the Christos, and two men were taken ashore to Walls Hill at Babbacombe by the Navy helicopter.
There were fears at one stage that the tug might have had to be beached at Torre Abbey or Broadsands.
A Torbay RNLI lifeboat spokesman said the Christos, which had been towing the bare hull of the 80-metre vessel Emsstrom up the Channel, had been struck by the barge at around 7pm, causing a large gash in its hull.
It is thought that the tug slowed and was then hit by the following Emsstrom, which was also said to be sinking just before midnight.
The Christos was taking in water faster than it could be pumped out, and the crew of Torbay lifeboat took pumps from HMS Lancaster on to the tug in choppy seas in an effort to clear the water.
Conditions below decks on the tug were such that the lifeboat volunteers had to don breathing apparatus.
Torbay's harbour authorities were being told of the situation late on Sunday night
At around 11pm the crewmen were airlifted off the Christos, which was said to be listing heavily.
Half a dozen crewmen from HMS Lancaster were on board trying to pump water out, along with three remaining Christos crew members and two members of the Torbay lifeboat crew.
The Navy personnel managed to partially plug the leak using wooden wedges.
At 11.45pm the order was given for the Christos to be abandoned, and there were also reports that the Emsstrom was going down.
The Emsstrom, no longer attached to the Christos, was further out to sea than the tug. The Exmouth lifeboat kept watch on the barge.
The Christos is reported to have around 200 tonnes of diesel on board. An inflatable boom was being used to contain any pollution.
An update from Coastguards at 7.20am said RNLI and Royal Navy vessels had now left the scene.
The water level on the Christos was continuing to fall and divers were expected to start repairs. Two more tugs were heading from Falmouth to assist.
By daybreak, the Brent was confident that she could keep the Christos afloat to allow for underwater welders to apply a patch to the hull of the Christos.