Off duty seaman praises ferry staff during ferry fire alert

The Northern Echo: Ian Smithson Ian Smithson

AN off-duty seaman on board the stricken DFDS Seaways ferry helped calm worried passengers in the aftermath of the emergency. HELEN RUSSELL reports

IAN Smithson was reading in his cabin on the ninth floor of the ferry when the ventilation suddenly stopped and he became aware of a change in course.

It was then the 28-year-old - an experienced deck officer with a rival ferry company - realised there could be a problem.

Moments later an emergency alarm sounded followed by an announcement by the ship's captain telling passengers there had been a fire, affecting decks five and six, and ordering them to muster on the open decks outside.

Mr Smithson, of Norton, near Stockton, who has nine years' experience at sea, said: “There was a bit of confusion on the stairwells.

“The crew were all going to their muster stations and I could see they had their fire plans with them.

“I was a little bit apprehensive because I could smell the smoke and knew something was wrong.

“People were generally calm but confused and a little bit frightened.

“I tried to reassure folk by telling them about how the ship’s design includes automatic fire fighting systems and fire doors, which had been closed to restrict the spread of the fire.

“One woman was sitting on the stairs, sobbing, and I told her not to worry and that everything would turn out alright.”

Mr Smithson, was travelling alone after his girlfriend, Anne-Marie Alexander, became stranded in Scotland after her car broke down on the way home from visiting family and was unable to make the trip.

Despite a handful of irate passengers, Mr Smithson described the general atmosphere as ‘stoical’ and praised the crew for their response.

The passengers were all detained in the bar areas while the casualties were airlifted to safety.

He said: “Most people, especially families with young children, were very matter-of-fact about it all.

“The scariest thing about the fire was the smoke.

“There was a lot of waiting around but after the first ten minutes or so it was obvious the situation was under control.

“At no point did any of the crew members panic. I saw them taking blankets out for children when we were out on the open deck.”

Although the boat returned to North Shields in the early hours of the morning, passengers were unable to disembark until mid-morning while police investigations continued.

Mr Smithson, originally from Easington Village, was given a letter offering a full refund or a place on the next available sailing.

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