Scores of firefighters battled to control a massive blaze on board a Philippines banana boat docked in Portsmouth Harbour.
About 70 firefighters from stations across Hampshire were drafted in to tackle the fire raging in the hold of the 40,000 tonne Nova Zembla.
They were faced with nightmare conditions of heat and smoke so intense that despite their breathing apparatus they could only stay inside for up to 20 minutes at a time.
Fire chiefs had to pull out the crews at midday as conditions became too dangerous inside the ship. The cargo had become unstable and firefighters were at risk of blazing boxes falling on top of them.
The hold was shut off to starve the fire of oxygen and the ship’s own firefighting system smothered the cargo with carbon dioxide.
This option had been avoided earlier in an attempt to save the 350 tonnes of bananas the ship was carrying en route to suppliers Fyffes.
Experts believed that depending on the success of this tactic the fire could burn for anything from several hours to several days.