50 hurt as new 'superferry' hits dock

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The Independent Online

A new cross-Channel "super-ferry" collided violently with the dockside as it manoeuvred to berth in Calais yesterday, injuring 50 passengers.

The Aquitaine, in service with P&O-Stena Line for only four months, was arriving on a mid-morning sailing from Dover when its bow crashed into the quay, plunging the ship into darkness. The passengers, mostly Britons on day-trips or starting continental holidays, were sent flying down staircases and corridors as they prepared to rejoin their cars.

The most serious injury was a broken leg. Twenty-five other passengers, including children, were treated in French hospitals for serious bruises and contusions. Other passengers were treated on board by a team of paramedics, who arrived by helicopter. Several cars were also damaged.

The Aquitaine, the largest ferry on the Dover-Calais route, severely dented its bow but was not holed and did not take in water. There were 1,241 passengers and 123 crew on board. It was four hours before uninjured passengers were allowed to disembark.

John Duncombe, 41, a solicitor from Rayleigh, Essex, said: "The first thing I thought was, 'Is the boat sinking?' There was a big thump, we had obviously hit something, the lights went off and the engine went quiet. I had been leaning against a wall and was pushed hard into this, but I saw someone fly about 10ft across the corridor ... After realising my wife was OK I looked around and could see people lying on the floor hurt and screaming."

Another passenger, Len Hancock, 55, from Lewes in Sussex, said: "I was waiting to go down to the car deck when all of a sudden there was a terrific thump and lots of people just went flying. Some hit themselves on the floor, some smashed into the bulkheads but luckily I was leaning up against one of the walls and that took the impact and I was fine.

"Remarkably there was very little panic, people picked themselves up, looked around and started to question what had happened because it was 10 minutes before an announcement [said] the boat had hit the quayside."

P&O-Stena Line refused to comment on the cause of the accident and said an internal inquiry was under way. French maritime safety authorities will also investigate the incident.