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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 January 2008, 23:13 GMT
Air rescue for ferry travellers
Riverdance
The ship was hit by a freak wave in bad weather in the Irish Sea
The crew of a ferry in the Irish Sea are being airlifted to safety after it was hit by a freak wave in bad weather.

Four passengers and four crew members have so far been rescued after Liverpool Coastguard received a Mayday call from the ship at 1943 GMT.

The Riverdance, which was sailing from Warrenpoint in County Down to Heysham in Lancashire, is listing to 60 degrees after its cargo shifted.

Three helicopters - two RAF and one from the coastguard - are at the scene.

The Irish Coast Guard has also sent a helicopter as back-up.

'Treacherous' conditions

The ship which crosses the Irish Sea twice a day is battling 7m waves and boats are having difficulty getting close to the ferry.

The conditions are treacherous, with a north westerly wind blowing at force nine to 10 and very high seas
John Matthews, RNLI

Jim Paton from Holyhead Coastguard said: "It's extremely difficult to assess it. At the moment it's very rough.

"Apparently the initial cause of the vessel developing a list was the cargo trucks and trailers shifting. Obviously those are still moving about and is a dynamic situation, depending on the weather et cetera."

John Matthews from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution added: "The conditions are treacherous, with a north westerly wind blowing at force nine to 10 and very high seas."

Major incident

The Riverdance - a roll-on-roll-off ferry - got into trouble approximately eight miles west of Fleetwood, Lancashire, in the Irish Sea.

Liverpool Coastguard are treating the rescue as a major incident. There are no reports of anyone injured or missing at present.

However, the coastguard is not sure whether the ferry will capsize and says it is in a precarious position.

Tony Redding, a spokesman for Seatruck Ferries which owns the vessel, said the ship's master ordered the evacuation as a precaution but that some of the crew were planning to stay on board to do all they could to stop the vessel from sinking.

John Matthews, from Fleetwood RNLI, said the rescue was progressing in a very "calm, professional manner" and that as the vessel was in shallow water, it was unlikely to sink.

He added that instead, it was likely to become stranded on a sand bank or come aground at Blackpool.

The Riverdance is currently only two or three miles off the coast, and heading towards the seaside resort's north pier.

Those airlifted from the ferry are being taken to Blackpool Airport to recover.



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