A SKIPPER was forced to abandon ship when his fishing boat burst into flames and exploded.
The lone sailor got into trouble when his vessel, the Margaret Rose, caught fire six miles west of Shoreham.
With flames and smoke rising high into the air and engulfing his boat, the fisherman jumped off his 28ft craft with an inflatable life raft and watched in dismay as the wrecked vessel slowly disappeared beneath the waves.
Jenna Smith, watch officer for Solent Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, said: “This was a very dangerous situation and required a swift response.
“The boat was well alight and very hazardous, as it was carrying around 150 litres of diesel and two gas canisters.”
The fisherman, who had set off just after dawn last Thursday, was off the coast of Littlehampton at 9.35am when he noticed small flames on his fibre glass vessel.
He desperately tried to combat the fire and quell the blaze.
However, it soon spread to the fuel and gas canisters, which exploded moments later.
The man, who is believed to be from Hove, had no time to grab his radio before jumping overboard with his life raft into the cold waters.
Once the raft was inflated, he used his mobile phone to dial 999 to inform them of his situation.
RNLI lifeboat crews from Shoreham and Littlehampton scrambled to aid the stricken sailor, along with the coastguard helicopter.
Lifeboat volunteers from Littlehampton arrived moments before the coastguard helicopter.
They plucked the shell-shocked, but otherwise unharmed, fisherman from the water and escorted him back to shore where he was assessed by medical staff.
The all-weather lifeboat crew from Shoreham remained by the ablaze craft to ensure that it was no a risk to other sailors nearby.
Nick White, lifeboat operations manager at RNLI in Littlehampton, said this was a dramatic incident that was well dealt with by the volunteer lifeboat crews.
Nick said: “It looked very dramatic with a large plume of smoke but the conditions were not that difficult for us. It’s not like in Hollywood where there is a massive explosion.
“But obviously life was at risk. So it was a very satisfying job to deal with. It wasn’t a routine call-out, that’s for sure.”
The vessel eventually burnt itself out and sank. The cause of the fire is unknown.
The Shoreham lifeboat was then called to a broken down fishing vessel Rumour five miles south of Shoreham.
The 26ft boat with one person on board was towed back to Shoreham Harbour.