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Last Updated: Friday, 1 February 2008, 18:40 GMT
Bad weather hampers ferry salvage
Riverdance
Bad weather is hampering the salvage operation

Attempts to salvage a ferry which ran aground off the Blackpool coast in bad weather may take another two to three days, Liverpool coastguard has warned.

Severe weather is hampering the ship's recovery and high tides which shunted it onto the sand on Thursday night will be lower over the next few days.

Salvage crews had hoped the high tides would help refloat the Riverdance.

Twenty-three people were flown to safety after the ferry was hit by a freak wave which caused it to list.

The truck ferry - owned by Seatruck Ferries - was travelling from Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland to Heysham, Lancashire, when it ran into difficulty just before 2000 GMT.

Mountainous seas

Some of the ferry's cargo of 50 lorries broke chains holding them down and as the load shifted the vessel began to list at 60 degrees in conditions described as the roughest for a decade.

Helicopters from the RAF, Royal Navy and Irish Coastguard battled mountainous seas and 60mph (96km/h) winds to rescue those on board.

I pay genuine tribute to what they have done, it must have been a hair-raising operation
Tom Harris, Transport Minister

Fleetwood RNLI crews said it was "some of the worst" weather they had seen.

Initially four passengers and 10 of the crew were winched ashore, while the remaining nine crew tried to refloat the roll-on roll-off ferry.

But they too had to be pulled to safety.

Rescuers have been hailed for their bravery by Transport Minister Tom Harris.

He thanked the rescuers, including crews from the RAF, Royal Navy, and English and Irish Coastguards for saving the lives on the passengers and crew onboard.

'Hair-raising operation'

Airman Rich Taylor was winched down "swinging like a pendulum" in the gale-force 70mph winds, while below lifeboat crew raced to the scene braving 20ft waves crashing over their boats.

BBC map showing the location of Riverdance

Mr Harris said: "We always talk about hypothetical dangers some of these people have to face.

"Last night was for real, these people put their lives at risk and I'm sure the 23 people on board are going to be eternally grateful for their efforts.

"I pay genuine tribute to what they have done, it must have been a hair-raising operation but they did it faultlessly without injury to themselves or any passengers."

Kevin Hobbs, chief executive of Seatruck Ferries, also paid tribute to the Riverdance's crew and added that a risk assessment had been carried out by the captain before the ship embarked on the crossing - which it carried out twice a day.

'Fantastic crew'

"The crew were fantastic, they took control of the situation," he said.

"The captain took the initial decision to take the four passengers off and remain on board with only essential crew. They stabilised the vessel.

RIVERDANCE FACTS
Built in 1977
Capacity for 55 vehicles
Is 115m in length
Crosses Irish Sea twice a day
It carries cargo but is also allowed to take up to 12 passengers

"Unfortunately, as the early hours and beyond went on, the weather continued to deteriorate, and the captain decided to abandon ship."

Although the vessel is still carrying 100 tonnes of bunker fuel for its main engine and 50 tonnes of gas oil, surveillance from a pollution-sensor aircraft has revealed no sign of leakage from the ship.

SEE ALSO
Operation to float stricken ferry
01 Feb 08 |  Lancashire
Ferry runs aground off Blackpool
01 Feb 08 |  Lancashire
High winds push trawler aground
01 Feb 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Air rescue for ferry travellers
31 Jan 08 |  Merseyside

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