Crew members from a Spanish fishing trawler were so desperate to escape their sinking, burning ship on Sunday that some jumped into the water without a life jacket or any protection against the frigid North Atlantic waters.

Capt. Derek LeRiche of the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Leonard J. Cowley, said that when he arrived on the scene on Sunday the vessel was listing badly, and it only took about 20 minutes before the trawler was completely under water.

LeRiche found most of the 22 crew members of the Monte Galineiro in lifeboats. However, eight of them were in the water, and many of them were not wearing survival suits.

According to LeRiche, the crew members were lucky that the Cowley was only minutes away when it received a distress call from the trawler.

"Normally with these search and rescue cases, lots of times we get calls and you could be an hour or two or three or even a day away," LeRiche told reporters on Monday. "But in this particular case they were very lucky that we were right alongside there in 10 minutes."

When the coast guard vessel arrived on the scene, the crew members of the 30-metre trawler -- 21 men and one woman -- were brought on board the ship.

One was flown to St. John's for treatment of smoke inhalation, while the rest were brought to port aboard the ship -- one was treated for hypothermia while on board.

The situation could have been much worse if the coast guard vessel hadn't already been nearby.

"If we hadn't have been there, the guys in the water wouldn't last any more than five or 10 minutes," the Cowley's second officer, John Parsons, told reporters. "The water's that cold. I guess God was pleased. Everybody got saved."

According to Dan Frampton, the regional supervisor for the rescue centre in St. John's, the Cowley was conducting routine fisheries patrols about 400 kilometres off the coast of St. John's when it received a call that a ship was on fire and sinking.

"When she arrived on scene, the vessel looked okay but then all of a sudden it took a list or heel to the left and they started seeing the crew abandon, at which point they started their process for getting ready for recovery or rescue operations," Frampton told

After disembarking at St. John's, the crew was brought to a local hotel, where they received emergency supplies from the Red Cross.

At a news conference on Monday afternoon, the ship's crew reported hearing two loud bangs before noticing that the lower portion of the ship was engulfed in flames.

"Everything happened so quickly that it was difficult to realize what was happening," Capt. Ivan Blanco said in Spanish, his comments interpreted by Spanish Consul General Carlos Valcarcel.

Blanco also thanked Canadian authorities for their quick response.

"To the Canadian authorities and to the Red Cross and to the Coast Guard of St. John's and to the people of St. John's and Canada, thank you very much indeed," Blanco said.

The ship's cook, Justice Ehun, said that despite the close brush with death, he plans to return to sea.

"Because, you know, life is like that. Sometimes it will be good, sometimes it will be bad," Ehun said. "You cannot say that you will not go (to) sea again. It's part of life."

The crew will fly back to Vigo, Spain on Tuesday. Spanish officials will conduct an investigation to determine the cause of the fire.

With a report from NTV News