WEARSIDERS have spoken of their horror at being caught up in a terrifying ferry fire.
Two crew members and four passengers who had breathed in smoke had to be winched off the DFDS ferry, which was travelling to Amsterdam overnight between Saturday and yesterday.
The fire started in a cabin at about 10.45pm when the vessel was about 30 miles from the North East coast.
Ship staff detained the person who they thought was responsible for starting the fire and the ship turned around and returned to its North Shields terminal, where the 26-year-old was arrested on suspicion of arson and a 28-year-old was arrested on suspicion of affray.
Karl McMurrough, from Pennywell, Sunderland, was on board the ferry but has vowed never to travel by sea again.
The 18-year-old said: “We all got rushed on to the deck, there were helicopters, kids squealing, life jackets.
“They were telling us to keep calm but they weren’t giving us any information.
Asked about passengers fighting, he said: “There were a few people going wild – no-one knew what was going on.
“I’m never going on a boat again, I’m horrified.”
Julie Bell and Shaun Richardson, from Washington, were supposed to be on a weekend away.
Julie said: “It was like a scene from a movie, a chaotic mess, horrible.
“It was terrifying and I won’t be travelling by boat again.
“I think I will stay in the UK from now on, it’s a lot safer.” Mr Richardson said when passengers were told to muster on deck, it was clear some youngsters had been asleep in their cabins.
He said: “There were lots of children with no socks or shoes on. They must have just got out of bed.”
Almost 1,000 passengers were on board the ferry, which was cancelled on its return to the North East.
Gert Jakobsen, a spokesman for ferry operator DFDS Seaways, said they would help those forced to abandon their journey to find alternative crossings.
He said: “We are very sorry for those passengers who have not only been affected by the fire but now by these delays.
“We are looking at how we can help them. The cabin that was burnt is very damaged and there has been some smoke damage to surrounding cabins, but the ship’s function has not been affected in any way and is safe to travel.”
RAF helicopters from Leconfield near Hull and Boulmer, Northumberland, were scrambled to the vessel along with RNLI lifeboats from Bridlington and Filey in Yorkshire. Mr Jakobsen added that he expects the injured crew and passengers flown to Scarborough Hospital to be released later today.
Another 15 passengers and eight crew members were treated by doctors for smoke-related injuries.
A police spokeswoman said: “We received a report from the coastguard at around 12.05am of a suspected arson on board a ferry on the North Sea.
“Officers from Northumbria Police are working with DFDS Seaways and other partners to assist with the situation.
“Two men have been arrested – a 26-year-old man on suspicion of arson and a 28-year-old man on suspicion of affray.
“Both men are helping police inquiries.”
According to the DFDS Seaways website, the 26-year-old vessel has room for more than 1,500 passengers and 600 cars. It was renovated in 2006.
It offers entertainment including restaurants, bars, a nightclub and a casino.
Jamie Petterson, who was on board with his 10-year-old son Harry, said passengers initially believed the evacuation was a drill.
He said: “People were singing the Rod Stewart sailing song and the theme from Titanic. To be honest, it was treated rather as a little joke.
“But I think we got a bit more serious when we saw people sort of crying. There was a strong smell of smoke as we left the ship – we were on the tenth deck – so we realised it was a little more serious. And I think the way the crew acted, we found it was serious then.”
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