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Ferry company confirms 'some passengers have sustained injuries' in Swona grounding


By Alan Hendry

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Lifeboat crews arrived to find the ferry aground on Swona. Picture: Longhope RNLI
Lifeboat crews arrived to find the ferry aground on Swona. Picture: Longhope RNLI

The operators of the ferry involved in yesterday's grounding on Swona have confirmed that "some passengers have sustained injuries" as a result of the incident.

Pentland Ferries' catamaran MV Alfred went ashore on the uninhabited island at 2pm on Tuesday in calm conditions. The vessel had 84 passengers and 13 crew on board.

Longhope and Thurso RNLI crews went to the scene.

Forty-five passengers, including young children, were transferred to St Margaret’s Hope on the Longhope lifeboat Helen Comrie before the Alfred was refloated around 3.30pm. The ship was escorted to the South Ronaldsay ferry port by tugs and the two lifeboats.

All sailings of the ferry have been suspended until after the weekend while an investigation of the damage is carried out

Pentland Ferries' recently appointed managing director Helen Inkster said: “Our first priority is the safety of our passengers and unfortunately some passengers have sustained injuries, the full extent of which is still being assessed.

“On arrival in St Margaret’s Hope, passengers were taken to the Cromarty Hall for refreshments while we assessed the car deck for damage.

“We have already initiated a full investigation as to what caused the ship to ground, and we welcome the Marine Accident Investigation Branch to Orkney today [Wednesday] to start its own investigation.

“We very much regret the inevitable impact this has had on those on board.”

The ferry aground on Swona. Picture: Thurso RNLI
The ferry aground on Swona. Picture: Thurso RNLI

All sailings of MV Alfred have been suspended, up to and including Sunday.

Pentland Ferries says this is "to allow for a full investigation of damage sustained during the grounding of the ship".

It adds: "If you have travel booked and have not already been contacted, please call 01856 831 226. Pentland Ferries sincerely apologises for the inconvenience caused."

The Thurso lifeboat The Taylors was launched at 2.26pm and arrived on the scene at 3.05pm to find the Alfred aground.

The Taylors was preparing to take the remaining passengers when the ferry refloated.

Thurso coxswain Gordon Munro took the lifeboat alongside the ferry at St Margaret's Hope and four casualty care trained RNLI crew members boarded the Alfred to help Scottish Ambulance Service staff attend to injured passengers.

The Taylors left at 4.45pm and was back in Scrabster by 6pm.

Pentland Ferries' managing director Helen Inkster: 'Our first priority is the safety of our passengers.'
Pentland Ferries' managing director Helen Inkster: 'Our first priority is the safety of our passengers.'

On its Facebook page, Longhope lifeboat crew said that as well as 45 "somewhat shaken" passengers, a pet snake was transferred too.

The incident happened during Maritime Safety Week 2022, which encourages the marine industry to "focus on how we can collectively continue to improve safety across the sector".

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: “At approximately 2pm today, HM Coastguard was alerted to a passenger ferry carrying 97 people on board having gone aground on Swona.

"Thurso and Longhope lifeboats were sent to provide safety cover and begin evacuating the passengers from the ferry to the lifeboat while the ETV Ievoli Black was sent to provide a tow if required.

"The vessel was refloated within an hour and a half before continuing, under its own power, to St Margaret’s Hope. It has been escorted by the two lifeboats as well as two tugs from Orkney.

"Coastguard rescue teams from Kirkwall and St Margaret’s Hope were also sent to meet the vessel at port.”

Four casualty care trained RNLI crew members from Thurso lifeboat boarded the Alfred in St Margaret's Hope. Picture: Bruce Flett
Four casualty care trained RNLI crew members from Thurso lifeboat boarded the Alfred in St Margaret's Hope. Picture: Bruce Flett

Pentland Ferries operates regular services between St Margaret’s Hope and Gills Bay.

An announcement on the company's website says: "We regret to announce that all sailings of MV Alfred have been suspended, up to and including Sunday 10 July. This is to allow for a full investigation of damage sustained during the grounding of the ship earlier today. We are contacting all customers who have travel booked with us and we sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused."

The £14 million MV Alfred made its inaugural voyage in October 2019, replacing the Pentalina on the route.

Built in Vietnam, it has been described as the most environmentally friendly ferry in Scotland. It can accommodate 430 passengers and 98 cars, or 54 cars and 12 articulated vehicles/coaches.


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