Northern Ireland

Cargo ship captain faces drink charge after collision

The captain of a cargo ship which was in collision with a passenger ferry in Belfast Lough will appear in court on Friday on a drink charge.

The 55-year-old man has been charged with excess alcohol by the master of a ship.

An investigation is under way after the accident, which happened between Carrickfergus and Helen's Bay on Wednesday.

No-one was injured, but both vessels were substantially damaged.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said both captains had been breathalysed.

The Stena Feronia ferry was on its way from Birkenhead, Merseyside, to Belfast when the collision happened about a mile and a half from shore at about 19:45 GMT.

Coxswain of Donaghadee Lifeboat Philip McNamara said the cargo ship, the Union Moon, was brought back to Belfast.

It was carrying 2,000 tonnes of aggregate (stones).

"A large section of her bow was missing and we just stood beside her with a salvage pump ready to go aboard if required," he said.

"It was just - get the lifeboat up as quickly as possible, have the salvage pump ready and prepare to evacuate anybody that had to come off. We were concentrating on how to deal with the situation."

The passenger ferry later docked at the Stena terminal.

Image caption The two ships are side-by-side in Belfast Lough

A man who was on the ferry said it was a very frightening experience.

"Basically there was a huge thump. People were being bumped about, thrown by the impact - it was huge.

"Then the emergency alarms went off and there was an announcement from the captain that there had been an incident and they were preparing the lifeboats and we were all put into life jackets."

The passenger praised the catering crew who looked after everyone, but said no one from Stena Line had been in contact with him.

"When I got to shore there was no one from Stena," he said.

"I can imagine some people might have needed a hotel after that - but there was no one there to support the passengers. So far, no one has been in touch from Stena. It would be at least a courtesy for them to get in contact with us.

"They should have been there on the ground. People were scared."

A female passenger said she was sitting in her cabin when she heard a "massive bang".

"Then all the sirens went and we went downstairs and we were all issued with life jackets and told to prepare to get off in the raft," she said.

"I was scared, but the staff were great, very good. They put us all at ease."

Cahill Loughran was also on board with his wife and four children.

"They said we might have to get into lifeboats, they weren't sure what the damage was, and then the captain came on and said the damage was above the waterline," he said.

Image caption Diane Poole said safety procedures were rigorous

"There was a hole, but it was above the waterline."

Diane Poole of Stena Irish Sea said the crew on board the ferry went out of their way to make everyone comfortable.

"Our safety procedures are second to none. We have safety drills every Monday - very rigorous training - so our staff are well prepared for any situation at sea," she said.

"They were very calm and looked after the passengers."

However, she apologised for the fact that there was no member of staff on board a coach which took foot passengers to the terminal.

"If we fell down anywhere, it was there," she said.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch and the police are all involved in the investigation.

Engineers from Stena Irish Sea are currently assessing the damage to the vessel to see how long it will be out of service.

The company said it would be contacting passengers due to sail on the Feronia to offer them alternative travel arrangements or a full refund.

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