Northern Ireland

Belfast Lough baby search stood down by Coastguard

The search in Belfast Lough has been stood down
Image caption The search in Belfast Lough has been stood down

A search and rescue operation following reports that a baby fell from a ferry in Belfast Lough has been stood down by the Coastguard.

On Wednesday night, a woman was rescued from the lough after she fell overboard from the Stena Line vessel.

She was treated for hypothermia in the Royal Victoria Hospital where she is in a stable condition.

The Coastguard said the search would be turned over to police as there was no chance of finding the baby alive.

"We've got no chance of finding the child alive after 18 hours, so we will be handing over to the police for the recovery phase," Coastguard watch officer Jude McNeice said.

Ms McNeice thanked members of the public who have been helping with the search, but said it was better to leave it to the emergency services.

"It is a fairly dangerous stretch of coastline," she said.

"We know your intentions are very good, but please don't turn up to join in the search."

Thursday morning's search focused on the area between Holywood and Hazelbank on the north shore of the lough.

'Trying their damnedest'

Lifeboats from Donaghadee and Bangor took part along with other vessels.

Tidal and wind information was used to target specific areas.

Gareth Morrison, the RNLI deputy inspector said all those involved in the search were "trying their absolute damnedest".

"All we're concerned about is finding a second person at this stage," he said.

"The weather today isn't helping us in that it is making flying for the helicopters much more difficult as well.

"The place is saturated at the moment with boats from Belfast harbour and the RNLI lifeboats from Donaghadee and Bangor.

"Given it's a relatively small search area and the area is contained, we do have the right number of assets in the area, it's just a very slow painstaking process.

"With the tides changing around 10:00 or 11:00 BST on Thursday that could be a peak time for low water, to maybe try to find something."

Missing

The alarm was raised at 18:10 BST on Wednesday, as the ferry arrived from Cairnryan in Scotland and was preparing to dock at Belfast Harbour.

Despite an extensive air, sea and shore search of Belfast Lough, there was no sign of the child.

A spokesman said one person was recovered by the pilot boat at 18:25 BST, 15 minutes after the alarm was raised.

Image caption The woman and baby were reported to have fallen from a Stena Line ferry

Bangor and Donaghadee RNLI lifeboat, an Irish Rescue helicopter, police helicopter, fast rescue craft from two ferries, tugs and a pilot boat were all engaged in the search.

Coastguard rescue teams from Bangor and Portmuck also searched the shoreline of Belfast Lough.

John McPoland of the Ambulance Service said the woman was lucky to be alive.

"She has been in the water for a while and you can understand that from the coldness of that water, she would have been hypothermic," Mr McPoland said.

"So the crew would have made sure she was well wrapped up and warm.

"The crew were concerned enough about her condition that they did alert the hospital to expect them."