After 20 hours stuck on storm-tossed seas before they docked, Channel ferry passengers are trapped because doors are stuck


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The Independent Online

Hundreds of passengers anxious to get off a stranded ferry have been forced to remain onboard at a French harbour as the ship's doors failed to open.

Around 500 people thought their ordeal was ended when the Irish Ferries ship they were travelling on finally docked after five attempts today at Cherbourg: 24 hours later than scheduled because of rough seas.

But the bow door on the Oscar Wilde jammed as they prepared to disembark from their sailing from the south-east of Ireland. The journey was meant to be overnight but ended up taking two days.

"Basically those passengers are still on the ship. They haven't been able to get off. There's been a malfunction on the door lock, it's a hydraulic failure that has stopped us from opening it," said an Irish Ferries spokesman.

Normally in such circumstances a ship would sail back out of its berth and reverse in again so passengers could alight through the stern, or back, door.

But because conditions in the English Channel remain dangerous, harbour authorities warned the ship's captain against moving the ferry.

Engineers are working on the bow door but there is no estimation of how long the repairs will take.

The spokesman said there is nothing fundamentally unsafe with the door and all passengers are "perfectly safe".

A total of 245 French school pupils are among those onboard.

A crew member suffered a suspected broken ankle when a line snapped during one of the attempts to dock.

The Oscar Wilde left Rosslare at around 6pm on Sunday and was due to arrive at Cherbourg at 2pm Monday. It initially arrived five hours late but was prevented from docking at the port due to high winds and heavy seas.

"On arrival, weather conditions were poor and dockside was heavily iced. Assisted by tugs, the vessel attempted to dock but was unsuccessful. Because of heavy weather and difficulty in docking, it was decided that the safest option was that the vessel should withdraw to stand off at anchor outside the port," the spokesman said.

"During the night three further efforts to dock were made without success. To complicate matters further, it is understood that the port area and roads around Cherbourg are gripped by snow and icy conditions."

The ferry circled outside the port this morning until the wind changed direction, making its fifth docking attempt successful, Irish Ferries said.

The injured crew member was cared for on-board by two passengers who are doctors.

The spokesman said earlier: "There were approximately 500 passengers on board including a number of French school students returning from a visit to Ireland.

"Save for the obvious discomfort of being delayed from going ashore, everyone on board was safe and reported to be in good spirits, are comfortable and were well catered for on board."

Some delays on future sailings are expected, with the ferry scheduled to return to Rosslare later today.