A FISHING boat sank off the North Sea coast, prompting a huge rescue operation.

The 27-metre fishing vessel activated its distress beacon at 5am, 36 nautical miles east of Shetland.

A rescue operation was launched by the UK Coastguard, which sent a helicopter from Sumburgh on mainland Shetland, along with a Norwegian rescue helicopter.

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A lifeboat was also launched from Lerwick despite rough sea conditions, which arrived 15 minutes after the boat sank and stayed for five hours.

The fishing vessel had reportedly taken in a quantity of water at the stern and sank quickly, but the eight crew members had time to activate their “DSC” maritime distress signal, giving their exact location.

At the time, winds were northerly, Force 6-7, with an air temperature of around five degrees celsius.

The eight crew were lifted from their life rafts by helicopter and taken to Sumburgh airport, and were reported to be well.

The lifeboat recovered debris and returned to Lerwick harbour around 10am, where it was refuelled.

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Stephen Manson, Lerwick Lifeboat coxswain, said: “We’re pleased that all crew were safely recovered by helicopter, given the cold sea temperature and rough sea conditions.

“The fishing vessel was well equipped and their distress beacon gave their exact location for the rescue response. Our volunteer crew are always able to respond to any request to launch for vessels in distress.”

Max Rimington, for HM Coastguard, said: “The fishing vessel crew made their initial call from a DSC radio before all communications were lost with the vessel.

“Following that, an alert was received from their emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) by the Coastguard.

“These two methods of communication meant that we knew exactly where the fishermen were and were able to send rescue assets to their location without the need for a protracted search.

“The beacon and DSC, alongside their life raft, undoubtedly led us to recovering all the fishermen safely.”