Tuesday, May 23, 2006
A 50ft wave caused by a force-9 gale left six people injured and the flagship damaged. A freak wave smashed into one of the world’s largest ferries in the Bay of Biscay, terrifying passengers and forcing the ship to divert to a French harbour. The wave, estimated at between 40ft (12m) and 50ft high, crashed into the Pont-Aven, the flagship of the Brittany Ferries fleet smashing windows and injuring at least six people. Cabins more than 50ft above the waterline were flooded. Passengers described seeing a wall of water, followed by an explosion and then seeing people running around covered in blood after being hit by glass. The 41,000-tonne Pont-Aven, which was sailing from Plymouth to Santander in northern Spain, was forced to pull into the French port of Roscoff for emergency repairs.
Pont-AvenThe 1,150 passengers on board were offered a refund and told that they could return to England on another ship or make their own way to Spain. Some complained that they had been left stranded with no way to continue their journey. The wave struck at the height of a Force 9 gale that had caused the cancellation of dozens of crossings in the Channel. The £100 million Pont-Aven, the largest and most modern vessel in the fleet, was being buffeted by heavy seas when the wave struck. Among the passengers were the owners of 19 classic cars who were heading for a rally in Barcelona. Richard Lloyd, of Brackley, Northamptonshire, said: “It had been pretty rough the night before as we headed down the Channel. “During dinner, bottles were tipping over and things sliding about but, when we turned the corner into the Bay of Biscay, it really got bad. I have never seen seas like it. I saw a huge wave, a wall of water roaring past, and there was a loud noise like an explosion when it hit. “Minutes later people were running around the ship very frightened. Some had what looked like shrapnel wounds and others were covered in blood.” Mr Lloyd, 60, a motor racing entrepreneur, had been on his way to the car rally with his wife, Phillipa, and 18 other competitors. He said that they would now have to drive their ageing vehicles an extra 600 miles and might miss the start of the rally. So many entrants were on the boat that the organisers have shortened the event by a day to compensate. Dave French and his partner, Val Bostock, from Bolton, were on their way to Alicante with their motorcycle. Ms Bostock said: “We woke up to find water in the cabin and we were on Deck 6, well above the sea. The alarm sounded and we were told to go to the restaurant. “We knew conditions were getting bad the night before when the magician had to cancel his act because his table kept sliding off the stage.” She said that they were given another cabin on the eighth deck. “They have said we will get our £400 ticket money back,” she said, “and they did dry out all our wet clothes for us. But we now have to spend another day or two on our journey.” The ship, which docked at 5am, is expected to be out of action until the week’s end.