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GRIFF'S HELL IN SHARK SEA AFTER BOAT BLAZE; EXCLUSIVE Star and his wife swim for their lives as yacht wrecked.

Byline: BY TOM BRYANT SHOWBIZ REPORTER

COMEDIAN Griff Rhys Jones and his wife Jo were forced to jump overboard into shark-infested waters after their yacht caught fire.

The terrified couple, 15 friends and the crew abandoned ship on the captain's order after a blaze broke out in the engine room of the chartered vessel.

The party spent an agonising 30 minutes in the sea around the Galapagos Islands off South America before an American cruise ship rescued them in fading light.

Minutes earlier the captain of the MV Barranda had warned them sharks, including the notorious hammerhead, populated the surrounding seas. A source said: "Everyone laughed but they were not quite so jolly when they were swimming for their lives.

"There was a huge sense of panic, especially as you could barely see in front of you because of the smoke. Griff was at the stern of the boat and Jo was at the bow and they lost each other for a good 10 minutes. It was truly terrifying and Jo feared the worst."

When rescuers took the group 600 miles to Quito, the Ecuador capital, many arrived with no ID or money last week. The source added: "Some only had their swimming costumes on. It was a logistical nightmare but everyone kept their mood high as each one rallied around. Griff was brilliant and kept cracking jokes to keep everyone's spirits up."

Among the items Griff lost was a laptop on which he was writing a nearly completed book. The source said: "He had to leave it behind to his immense frustration."

A spokesman for the keen sailor, who owns a 45ft yacht named Undina, said: "He's back home and everyone is fine."

Griff, 55, has starred in two BBC documentaries recreating the novel Three Men in a Boat.

The Foreign Office said: "We're aware of the incident and understand 13 British nationals returned to the UK last weekend."

There was a huge sense of panic. Griff and Jo lost each other in the sea for 10 minutes

CAPTION(S):

BIG FISH Feared Hammerhead shark; WATER DRAMA Griff spent half hour in perilous sea off Ecuador; RESCUED Ship picked up Griff and wife Jo
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 23, 2009
Words:365
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