Stranded ferry passengers back on dry land

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Passengers have spoken of their relief at being back on dry land after being trapped on board a stricken ferry for 24 hours.

Almost 200 passengers and crew were stranded after a lorry broke free and burst through the ship's rear door shortly after it set off from Stranraer, Dumfries and Galloway, on Wednesday evening.

The Stena Line service to Belfast was forced to head back to port with the lorry hanging out of the back.

But the 156 passengers and 33 crew were not able to disembark because the ferry could not berth, leaving them stuck on board for a whole day.

A dramatic rescue operation was launched last night when passengers were taken to shore one-by-one by a fire service cherry picker.

The lorry was later lifted from the vessel, finally allowing the ferry to dock at the harbour and the other vehicles to be removed.

Passengers spoke of their ordeal after being lifted to safety.

They said they became concerned after hearing a loud bang at the rear of the vessel.

Among the first passengers to be rescued from the ferry were father and daughter Tony and Kerry Cooper, from Donaghadee, near Bangor, Northern Ireland.

Mr Cooper, 53, an HGV driver, said: "I'll be glad to get home. The only bad point, I thought, was that the captain came on at half past 10 at night and he didn't come on again until an hour before we got off the boat. He said he would keep us informed and he didn't and obviously all the lorry drivers are really annoyed on the boat tonight."

Ms Cooper, 23, said: "They were very good to us. They provided meals every couple of hours, and there were snacks available and you could get as many drinks as you wanted apart from alcoholic drinks. And they gave us blankets at night time as well.

"When it happened we were watching the football so we weren't paying that much attention until we came to a full stop.

"I'm relieved to get off because there were rumours that we'd be there until Saturday but getting into the fireman's lift was absolutely terrifying."

Mr Cooper said he saw the lorry suspended and hanging out of the stern door.

He added: "I have lost two days' work so I am a bit annoyed about that, but life goes on."

The passengers were bussed to a local hotel or offered passage on a P&O Ferry from Cairnryan.

The lorry was a tanker carrying non-hazardous ferrous sulphate powder and none of the substance had leaked, police said.

HSS Stena Voyager went back into service only on Monday after a £1 million refit.

It normally makes four round trips a day between Stranraer and Belfast.

Services on the route were suspended until further notice, but Stena Line passengers were being transferred to P&O services.

An investigation is under way into how the accident happened.