EIGHT THOUSAND litres of diesel fuel are today threatening the scenic bays of St Kilda as the Spanish-crewed fishing trawler 'The Spinning Dale' lies embedded on cliff rocks in Village Harbour.
Stornoway Coastguard received a distress call from the trawler at 5.27 this morning before scrambling the new Sikorsky S92 helicopter, 'Mike Uniform' and the RNLI lifeboat to the location.
Helicopter pilot Liz Forsyth, who has been based in Stornoway since October, described how the helicopter approached the scene in pitch black and was forced to move off and wait in a safe location until the sun rose – giving the crew visual reference points.
Mike Uniform then moved to within 10 feet of the sloping cliffs and began the dramatic 30 minute rescue which involved winching the14 man crew to safety two at a time.
Describing the Spanish crew as "cold and shivering", Liz Forsyth expressed her pride in her team saying: "The winch man did a fantastic job. He was having to hold onto the deck with waves crashing over his head."
Winch man Phil Warrington, who suffered bruising to his upper arms, brushed off the compliment saying: "You often get little knocks and bruises but it's part of the job. The main thing is that everyone's safe."
With the assistance of the trawler's skipper, who the Search and Rescue Team said had provided invaluable assistance, all 14 of the crew were safely taken to Stornoway Airport before being moved to the Coastguard Station for health and security checks.
Only four required medical checks with one suffering a minor cut.
The RNLI lifeboat was called back from the rescue after the success Mike Uniform had, but before they returned to shore they got a good look at the atrocious conditions with a spokesperson saying: "The conditions are not nice to say the least. On clearing the Sound of Harris, in the shallow seas around the coast, the lifeboat encountered 30/40ft seas and 15 knot wind speeds."
However, the 82ft trawler which was using Village Bay as a shelter from last night's Gale Force 10 winds, in now embedded precariously on the rocks of the natural haven with five metre waves washing over her stern and a slow leak of diesel fuel pouring into the Atlantic.