Page last updated at 06:52 GMT, Friday, 30 January 2009

Ferry passengers back on dry land

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Video of the lorry hanging off the back of the ferry

Almost 200 passengers and crew trapped on a ferry by a jammed lorry have finally made it to dry land.

The 156 passengers and 33 crew had been stranded on board for more than 24 hours after a lorry was found hanging off the back of the vessel.

The Stena Voyager, which was bound for Belfast, had to return to Stranraer.

The fire service was using a lifting platform to remove passengers before a crane attempts to lift off the lorry. The operation was taking several hours.

The alarm was raised on Wednesday evening after a loud bang was heard by passengers.

Passenger Tony Cooper described the moment the accident happened: "The fellow who was sitting next to us was actually out the back for a smoke and when he heard this bang, he came running in as did everybody else and he said, 'As far as I know there's a lorry hanging out the back of the ship' - and I said, 'That's impossible', but true enough there was."

Those on board have been supplied with blankets and food and the crane was brought from the north of England to remove the lorry.

If the boat had taken in water, it could have been a tragedy
Peter McCrory
Passenger
One of the passengers, Peter McCrory from Dungannon, told BBC News that the ship almost came to a standstill.

"However, we discovered on looking out the rear doors there was a lorry hanging out through the back, it had burst the rear doors."

Mr McCrory said it had been a frightening experience, adding: "If the boat had taken in water, it could have been a tragedy."

The emergency services were alerted to the incident on board the Stena Line HSS Stena Voyager Fastcraft at 2130 GMT on Wednesday. The vessel had left Stranraer at 1950 GMT.

One rescued passenger, Kerry Cooper, told BBC Scotland: "I found it really surreal that we were there for so long.

"I didn't even remember yesterday, maybe because I've only had 20 minutes sleep between 5 o'clock yesterday morning and now.

"We didn't know what was going on from one minute to the next and I just didn't really know when I was going to get off again and be on dry land."

Lorry on ferry
The lorry was discovered hanging out of the ferry doors

Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary said an articulated tanker broke free and seriously damaged one of the stern doors.

The ship was quickly stabilised and none of the passengers or crew on board was injured.

The Voyager sailed back to Stranraer where the stricken motor lorry, which is owned by Turners (Soham) Ltd, of Fordham, Cambridgeshire, will be removed by crane, before the vessel can be properly berthed to allow passengers and vehicles to disembark.

The passengers began coming off via the lifting platform at about 1800 GMT.

Once the removal exercise is complete it is hoped the crane will lift off the lorry so the vessel can dock and start unloading all the other vehicles.

A Stena spokesman said the hole in the back of the vessel was 30ft above the water line.

He added: "Over the last few hours Stena Line has been trying to identify the safest and most efficient method of getting the passengers and crew ashore.

Passengers being taken off ferry
The passengers were being taken off the ferry by a lifting platform

"We find ourselves in a totally unique set of circumstances and are having to consider a number of unorthodox methods to find a safe solution.

"We are working closely with the fire and rescue service and hope to be in a position to start getting everyone ashore."

The tanker was laden with non-hazardous ferrous sulphate powder. Police said the load was fully intact and none of the substance had leaked.

He added: "Scottish Environment Protection Agency advice has been obtained in the event any leakage occurs and there is no danger to the public.

"A full investigation into the incident will be carried out by Stena Line and maritime agencies."

Colin Lockhead from Clyde Coastguard said they had been monitoring the situation.

"We put out the Stranraer lifeboat and the Stranraer Coastguard rescue team as well just to stand by the vessel for safety reasons," he said.

"Because of the lorry still hanging from the stern of the vessel it was unable to hook up to the link span at the harbour, so the passengers and vehicles have been unable to disembark from the vessel."

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