An aquaculture workboat thought to be worth more than £5m has been washed off a Dutch cargo ship during a fierce storm off the coast of Norway.

The drama began on Monday night when the Dutch vessel, Eemslift Hendrika, believed to be carrying up to three aquaculture boats, got into serious difficulties about 50 miles west of Ålesund. It has been battling to stay afloat ever since.

Waves were reported to be more than 45 feet (15 metres) high at one point.

The first eight of the 12-strong crew were lifted off by helicopter while the captain and three others stayed on board in an attempt to stabilise the vessel. They too have since been taken off.

The storms eased last night and, if conditions allow, two large tugs are ready to take the Eemslift Hendrika in tow later today.

But the biggest casualty so far seems to have been a 24 metre long new support vessel for the aquaculture support company AQS.

The boat was washed off during the storm and is now drifting off the Norwegian coast. Ironically, this incident may have helped to stabilise the Eemslift Hendrika and prevent it from capsizing.

Reports from Norway suggest that the boat, which is currently drifting helplessly close to the stricken ship, is worth around 66 million kroner and is equipped with some of the most modern cranes and equipment.

At the moment it seems to be floating upright and an effort may be made to try to salvage the boat. AQS said it was hoping for the best in this respect.

AQS AS is one of Norway’s largest aquaculture service companies with at least 18 service boats and 150 staff working along the country’s coastline.

The other fear with the Eemslift Hendrika is from the 350 tonnes of heavy oil on board which, if allowed to escape, could seriously damage the environment and coastal fish stocks.

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