Three injured crew members have been taken to hospital following an explosion on a Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC) container ship off France.

The blast occurred in the engine room of the 8,189-teu MSC Rachele (built 2005) on Tuesday morning, according to the French Mediterranean Maritime Authority.

The incident caused a fire and the ship lost power.

Regional emergency authorities were alerted when the vessel was about 40km off Cape Cepet, en route for Fos-sur-Mer.

Several army helicopters and medical teams were sent to the scene, and the three injured seafarers were airlifted from the boxship.

Two were evacuated to Sainte-Anne military hospital in Toulon, and the third to Sainte-Musse hospital.

There has been no word on their condition.

Switzerland-based MSC has been contacted for further information.

France Bleu reported that the MSC Rachele had been due to be towed overnight to the port of Marseille by a towage company contracted by the shipowner. AIS data shows it anchored there on Wednesday morning.

French authorities ordered the activation of level two of the Organisation de la Reponse de Securite Civile plan, making it possible to mobilise reinforcements and experts in the area.

Blaze brought under control

The fire on board the vessel was reported to be under control by the afternoon.

Damage to the Panama-flag ship is not yet known.

No immediate threat was identified in terms of pollution or maritime safety.

The MSC Rachele is entered with the North of England protection and indemnity club, as of May this year.

It has a clean port state control detention record stretching back to its delivery.