A MAN from Sunderland accused of starting a fire on a North Sea ferry which sparked a major rescue operation will argue the court has no jurisdiction in his case.

Boden George Hughes, 26, is charged with arson and affray after a fire broke out on a DFDS service between North Shields in North Tyneside and Amsterdam on December 28.

He appeared before Newcastle Crown Court via a videolink from prison, but did not enter pleas.

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A hearing will be held on May 8 where the issue of jurisdiction will be argued, the court agreed.

It was understood the legal team for Hughes, of Fulwell Road, Sunderland, will say the vessel was not British-flagged and was on the "high seas" at the time of the alleged offence, and therefore the court has no jurisdiction.

The prosecution will challenge that argument.

A provisional trial date of June 30 has been set.

Judge Jeremy Freedman said: "Boden Hughes, the case has been adjourned today, you are not being asked to formally plead to the charges because there is to be a legal argument to hear whether the crown court has jurisdiction in your case."

The King Seaways DFDS ferry, carrying 946 passengers and 127 crew, turned back to Tyneside when the fire broke out five hours into the voyage as the vessel was 30 miles off the Yorkshire coast.

Crew members extinguished the blaze, but six people, including a pregnant woman, were rescued by RAF helicopter and airlifted to hospital in Scarborough for checks. Seventeen people were treated by doctors on board the 30,000-tonne vessel.