Investigation underway after dramatic Shields Ferry rescue operation

The cross-Tyne Shields ferry Spirit of the Tyne was rescued by Tynemouth RNLI lifeboat volunteers.
The cross-Tyne Shields ferry Spirit of the Tyne was rescued by Tynemouth RNLI lifeboat volunteers.

An investigation is underway after passengers had to be rescued from a late-night Shields ferry after it suffered engine failure and began to drift in stormy waters.

The ferry had been making its final crossing of the night from North to South Shields when it suffered engine failure.

The cross-Tyne Shields ferry Spirit of the Tyne was rescued by Tynemouth RNLI lifeboat volunteers.

The cross-Tyne Shields ferry Spirit of the Tyne was rescued by Tynemouth RNLI lifeboat volunteers.

The Tynemouth RNLI all-weather lifeboat Spirit of Northumberland received a launch call from Humber Coastguard at about 11.30pm, while the Port of Tyne Pilot launch Collingwood evacuated three passengers from the ferry, leaving just the skipper, who was desperately trying to get the ferry’s engine restarted.

The drifting ferry was carried several hundred yards down river until it was caught on the river bank.

The RNLI lifeboat attached a tow rope to the ferry and pulled it away from the rocks. The vessel was dragged back to South Shields ferry landing and was almost secure before the tow rope parted after becoming snagged on the ferry landing, with the wind again blowing the powerless ferry away from safety.

Eventually, the lifeboat crew got the ferry under tow again and assisted by the crew of the Pilot launch, got it safely tied up on the landing.

The cross-Tyne Shields ferry Spirit of the Tyne was rescued by Tynemouth RNLI lifeboat volunteers.

The cross-Tyne Shields ferry Spirit of the Tyne was rescued by Tynemouth RNLI lifeboat volunteers.

Adrian Don, spokesman for Tynemouth RNLI lifeboat station, said: “Our crew was paged at 11.30 to what turned out to be a short but incredibly difficult and dramatic rescue in a howling gale.

“Michael Nugent, our Coxswain, and his volunteer crew used their extensive experience, training, determination, and every last reserve of the lifeboat’s powerful engines to rescue the ferry and bring it and its skipper to safety.

“Thankfully, no one was hurt in the incident.”

A Nexus spokesman said: “Our vessel, Spirit of the Tyne, suffered a suspected engine problem last night.

“This resulted in the ferry running aground on the South Shields side of the Tyne a few hundred metres down river from the South Shields landing.

“There were three passengers on board at the time along with three crew. Nobody was hurt.

“The crew immediately notified the harbour master and a pilot boat and the Tynemouth lifeboat were sent to the scene.

“The passengers and two of the crew were evacuated in an orderly manner on to the pilot boat.

“Ambulances were called as a precautionary measure.

“The ferry was then towed back to its landing by the lifeboat and was safely moored.

“The Shields Ferry has a very good safety record and our crew train for these type of these incidents all the time.

“Our thanks go to the Port of Tyne pilot boat crew and the lifeboat crew for coming to our aid.

“A full investigation into what happened is going to be carried out and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency will be informed as a matter of procedure.”

The spokesman added that the problems had arisen because of engine failure and not the weather conditions, adding that the service had operated in stormy weather numerous times in the past.