A stricken cargo ship which has been drifting in rough seas for days has been successfully dragged away from France's coast, marine authorities have said. On Monday (1 February), a last-ditch effort saw a Spanish tugboat manage to connect with the now-abandoned Modern Express as it was 27 miles from shore.

The operation saw experts from the Dutch company Smit Salvage lowered by helicopter on to the vessel as it tilted 45 degrees while being hit by large waves. The Panama-registered ship, carrying lumber and machinery, was then attached to the tugboat before being rotated and dragged out to sea.

In a statement, Marine Nationale praised the "courage and professionalism" of all those involved but warned there was still a risk the tow line could break. Maritime experts said it was "totally impossible to put the cargo ship upright".

The vessel started keeling on 26 January and the 22 crew members were airlifted by Spanish rescue helicopters. The ship continued to drift through the Bay of Biscay and was nearing the resort town of Arcachon in France, where it was predicted to run aground between 1 and 2 February.

Three earlier efforts to attach the tow line failed, with the cable snapping during an attempt on 30 January due to rough seas.

Modern Express was transporting 3,600 tonnes of wood along with construction machinery from Gabon to France. The carrier holds 300 tonnes of diesel but according to French maritime officials the fuel is currently secure and there have been no signs of a leak.

It is believed the vessel may have tilted to one side after its on-board cargo moved due to rough weather conditions.

modern express
A Spanish tugboat managed to latch on to the Modern Express as it continued on a collision course with the French coastMarine Nationale