A SUNDERLAND man is due to appear in court today charged with arson after a fire on board a North Sea ferry.
Two crew members and four passengers, one of them thought to be a pregnant woman, had to be winched off the DFDS Seaways vessel after they breathed in smoke as the blaze took hold in a cabin 30 miles from land at about 11pm on Saturday.
A further 15 passengers and eight crew members were treated by doctors for smoke-related injuries.
The ferry was forced to return to the Port of Tyne terminal in North Tyneside, where two people, both from Sunderland, were arrested.
Boden George Hughes, 26, of Fulwell Road, has been remanded in custody by police and will appear before North Tyneside Magistrates today charged with arson reckless to endangering life and affray.
A second Sunderland man, who is 28, who was arrested for affray has been bailed pending further inquiries.
Some 946 passengers and almost 130 crew were on board the Amsterdam-bound ferry.
The passenger suspected of starting the fire was detained on board by ship staff while it sailed back to the port.
The fire broke out in a passenger cabin at around 10.45pm and was extinguished by 11pm.
RAF helicopters from Leconfield near Hull and Boulmer in Northumberland were scrambled to the 30,000-tonne ship, along with RNLI lifeboats from Bridlington and Filey.
Passengers from Wearside on board the boat spoke of their terror at getting caught up in the incident.
Karl McMurrough, of Pennywell, said he was horrified by what happened and has vowed never to set foot on a boat again.
Julie Bell, of Washington, added: “It was like a scene from a movie – a chaotic mess.”
A spokesman for DFDS Seaways said that although there was some smoke damage to cabins, the vessel itself, last renovated in 2006, was still safe to travel in, and it eventually left the port heading for Holland yesterday afternoon.