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Last Updated: Friday, 1 February 2008, 09:17 GMT
Ferry runs aground off Blackpool
Riverdance in the Irish Sea
The Riverdance ferry crosses the Irish Sea twice a day

A roll-on roll-off ferry which ran into trouble in high winds in the Irish Sea has run aground off Blackpool.

A total of 19 crew members and four passengers were flown to safety from the Riverdance, after it was hit by a freak wave in bad weather.

Nine of the crew members were still on board when it ran aground on the north shore of Blackpool beach on its journey from Northern Ireland to Heysham.

Owner Seatruck Ferries said it was trying to salvage the ferry.

Initially four passengers and 10 crew members were rescued, with the remaining nine crew rescued later.

A spokesman for Seatruck Ferries said: "The conditions are such that the master requested helicopter transfer of all personnel.

BBC map showing the location of Riverdance

"All nine (crew members) are now safely off."

He added: "The issue was that as we approached high water the vessel started to rotate broadside on the beach.

"The high swell caused a list and, under those circumstances, the master decided safety came first."

He said the boat was listing 30 degrees and there was a risk that a helicopter rescue would be impossible if it was delayed any longer.

"We have now organised salvage assistance for the vessel," he added.

The Riverdance got into difficulties on Thursday evening, 10 nautical miles off the coast of Fleetwood, Lancashire, over a bank known as Shell Flat.

It had been sailing from Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland.

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

The vessel issued a Mayday at about 1930 GMT and three helicopters from the RAF, Royal Navy and Coastguard, were sent to the scene to help winch those on board to safety.

People were lifted two at a time into the helicopters, with nine crew staying on board to try and prevent the vessel from sinking.

Two lifeboats with volunteer crews also assisted in the rescue operation.

Rich Taylor, one of the RAF winch men involved, said: "It took some time to get the first rope down to the boat.

"Unfortunately, we then lost contact with that rope just through the boat moving away from us in the big swirl.

"So we had another bash at it and managed to get another rope down."

There are many ships at sea at the moment in these conditions and we've just been extremely unlucky
Kevin Hobbs
Seatruck Ferries Limited

Seatruck Ferries Limited said the stricken vessel had been carrying trucks and trailers from Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland to the port of Heysham in Lancashire, when it was struck by the freak wave.

The wave caused the ship's cargo to shift resulting in the vessel developing a significant list.

Speaking during the rescue operation, John Matthews from Fleetwood RNLI described the sea conditions as "horrendous" with 7m waves and winds of up to 60mph (96km/h).

'Extremely unlucky'

Kevin Hobbs, the chief executive of Seatruck Ferries Limited, defended the decision to run the service in bad weather.

"When the vessel sailed there was no cause for concern," he said.

"There are many ships at sea at the moment in these conditions and we've just been extremely unlucky."

Those flown to safety have been taken to Blackpool Airport to recover and be assessed for injuries.

Supt Richard Spedding, of Lancashire Police, said a couple of them had "very, very minor injuries" but they were "glad to be safe on dry land".

High winds push trawler aground
01 Feb 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Air rescue for ferry travellers
31 Jan 08 |  Merseyside

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