Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Ferry passengers ashore at last

High winds and heavy seas meant hundreds of passengers on an Ireland to France ferry spent the night off shore after their vessel failed to dock
High winds and heavy seas meant hundreds of passengers on an Ireland to France ferry spent the night off shore after their vessel failed to dock

Hundreds of passengers stranded in rough seas off the coast of France have finally made it ashore after being trapped at harbour as the ship's doors failed.

Misfortune struck the 500 Cherbourg-bound travellers twice as the Irish Ferries sailing from Ireland, expected to be an overnight journey, turned into a two-day calamity.

Treacherous conditions in the English Channel prevented the Oscar Wilde - the company's luxury flagship - from docking at the French port as scheduled on Monday at 2pm.

But when it finally berthed after five attempts on Tuesday - 24 hours later than expected - the seafarers anxious to disembark were forced to remain aboard a further four hours when the boat's bow doors jammed.

Irish Ferries blamed "a hydraulic failure" for preventing them from letting passengers - including 245 French pupils returning from a school trip to Ireland - back onto dry land.

Normally in such circumstances a ship would sail back out of its berth and reverse in again so passengers could alight through the stern, or rear, door.

But because conditions in the usually busy crossing remained dangerous, harbour authorities warned the ship's captain against moving the ferry.

Engineers worked for hours on the bow door to repair the "malfunction" before passengers were allowed ashore, where they faced an unseasonably late winter storm, with snowdrifts piling up to almost two feet and winds of more than 60 miles an hour.

An Irish Ferries spokesman said there was nothing fundamentally unsafe with the ship door and that all passengers were "perfectly safe". A crew member suffered a suspected broken ankle when a line snapped during one of the attempts to dock.

Plans for the ferry to return to Ireland on Tuesday night were cancelled and a scheduled sailing from Co Wexford back to France on Wednesday was also axed. Passengers due to travel on the sailings are being contacted while alternative arrangements are being made.

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