Passengers tell of 25 hours of frustration

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The Independent Online
Exhausted passengers who last night emerged from their 25- hour ordeal on the stricken ferry Stena Challenger grounded off Calais told of their anger and dismay.

Most accepted that it had been simply an accident and shruged off their day at sea, but some were angry at their treatment by Stena Sealink.

One man was angry that his Polish fiancee was likely to miss her father's funeral in Warsaw which is due to take place this morning because of their enforced stay aboard. Steven Pawsey, 35, a self-employed taxi-driver from Northampton told of the despair of his girlfriend, Yolanta Mullan, 38, who was already upset by her loss.

"My girlfriend is absolutely distraught," he said. "We have missed the funeral, and that's what I'm most concerned about. Stena are trying to get a taxi to take us to Paris or Brussels so that we can fly there, but we've missed it.

David Barrow, an antiques dealer on his way to Holland, said that the stay aboard the ship had been frustrating but not frightening, although he believed that they should be compensated for their wasted time. "We tried to sleep, but we couldn't get much. I'm not angry. We have just lost a day. It would be good if they gave us some money, perhaps pounds 100 each or something like that."

But Hamad Rafiq, on a clothes-buying trip to Paris from Ilford, Essex, was much more adamant. "I want compensation," he said, from the driver's seat of his van. "It was like a prison in there." His friend, Omar Ahmed, was more forgiving, however. "It was just one of those things that happens."

Dennis Hoch, a 26-year-old dental student from Frankfurt told how they had spent the day watching videos and drinking unlimited soft drinks from the bar, though there had been only one free alcoholic drink supplied by the company to the passengers.

He said that only once had the mood grown ugly when one passenger wanted to buy another drink from the bar but the steward had refused. He had been trying to get another drink but the captain said that the bar was staying closed.

Like some of the other passengers, he said that the captain and crew had kept them informed about what was happening, but initially they were short of information. "The captain spoke to us: `I must apologise. We have a slight problem. We have struck a sandbank.' But he did not say how the problem had happened."

Philip Tweedy, 37, delivering a combine harvester to France from Ludlow in Shropshire, added: "We knew we were not in any danger. We just got on with things. It was frustrating and one or two people got a bit cross, but I didn't mind ... my boss pays me daily whether I work or not."

He described the bizarre feeling of being stranded on a huge vessel, yet able to wave to crowds on the beach just a short distance away.

"The captain told us we had hit a sandbank and when everyone went to look we found we were virtually on the beach. That seemed to break the ice and everybody just got on with things," he added.

Glaswegian-born Alec Smith, 66, now living in Australia, told how he tipped out of his wheelchair at the moment of impact. "I felt the bump and then I hit my neck. Everybody was very kind. They just lifted me back into the chair which had gone over backwards."

The 73 lorry drivers on board were keen to get off the ferry as quickly as possible and to pick up their journeys, many of which were deep into Europe.

Challenger's voyage

`Tint box head1'

8pm Tuesday: Stena Challenger leaves Dover.

9.35pm: Runs aground on Bleriot Plage, two miles south of Calais.

9.37am Wednesday: Rescue attempt abandoned until the next high tide after line from one of three French tugs breaks.

8.10pm: Ferry pulled off sandbank by one tug.

10.05pm: Vessel docks at Calais, two hours after she was refloated.

10.30pm: Passengers disembark, about 25 hours after their scheduled arrival.

(All times BST)