The Carrier, of Reederei Erwin Strahlmann, of Brunsbuttel, which had arrived from Belfast, had loaded a cargo of limestone at Raynes Jetty, Llanddulas, near Colwyn Bay, when she was swept onto the nearby sea defences in a strong gale Force 9 at around 2015.
On board were a crew of nine Polish seamen.
Immediately behind the sea defences is a coastal cycle path then the A55 road that runs across North Wales to Holyhead.
The rescue operation was co-ordinated by Holyhead Coastguard.
The weather on the scene was atrocious, with very strong winds, a swell of at least 5m and snow showers and rain. The all-weather lifeboats from Llandudno and Rhyl were called out along with Coastguard Rescue Teams, the police, fire service and ambulances.
Marcus Elliott, Llandudno lifeboat’s operations manager, said: “When the lifeboat reached the ship, it was impossible to get alongside because the conditions were so extreme.” Both lifeboats stood by a short distance away from the ship.
Already in the air after a previous call out, a Sea King helicopter from HMS Gannet, at Prestwick, in Ayrshire, was diverted to the incident, refuelling at RAF Valley, on Anglesey, before arriving at the scene at around 2150.
The observer on the Royal Navy helicopter, Lieutenant Angela Lewis, described the scene: “Sea spray from the waves was being whipped up to a height of about 60ft in places and we were in the hover at about 80ft, so it was quite nerve-wracking.” It had initially been intended to winch the crew members off the ship to a landing site at North Wales Police headquarters in Colwyn Bay, but the helicopter crew had reported what they thought was a small fire on board the vessel. This later turned out not to be the case.
With the risk of fire, the A55 was closed to allow the helicopter to rapidly winch and then land on the road to disembark those rescued as quickly as possible.