The Steam Packet has blamed the ‘atrocious’ behaviour of some passengers for its decision to call police in Liverpool when a fast craft sailing was cancelled.
There were scenes of chaos on Monday evening after passengers on the 8.30pm Manannan sailing were kept waiting on board for hours while engineers tried to fix an engine fault – only for the captain to announce the service would be cancelled.
Many vehicle passengers drove to Heysham to board a delayed sailing of the Ben-my-Chree but more than 400 passengers were left stranded in Liverpool, with limited hotel rooms available on a bank holiday. Some foot passengers had to wait on board until midnight before they were allowed to disembark.
The Steam Packet managed to secure 115 bedrooms in the Thistle hotel and a further 40 rooms at the Hotel Formule1 but some passengers had to bed down on the Thistle’s conference room floor.
Steam Packet chief executive Mark Woodward confirmed the company had requested police attendance at the Liverpool ferry terminal to ensure the safety of passengers and staff.
He said: ‘I would first of all like to apologise to all passengers affected and thank many of them for their understanding and patience as we first attempted to resolve the issue to allow the sailing to leave and then tried to assist with transfers and overnight accommodation.
‘Unfortunately there was a small number of passengers whose behaviour was atrocious, who both physically assaulted and verbally abused shore staff in Liverpool, as well as damaging fixtures and fittings in toilets and the main departure lounge.
‘I would also like to thank all our staff, who were working in difficult circumstances, and in the face of some very unpleasant and threatening behaviour. I believe they did everything they could to protect passenger safety and assist as much as possible.
‘The police in Liverpool should also be thanked for their prompt and professional response, helping to calm passengers and safely escort them to the accommodation, including closing the busy main road at one point to allow a safe crossing.’
Merseyside police confirmed that no arrests were made.
Passenger Claire Browne, who had been due to sail on Monday night, said: ‘We were kept on the boat until midnight – foot passengers with no checked luggage got off about an hour earlier.
‘Upon leaving the boat we were greeted by several police cars and a riot van but by no helpful staff. No-one had a clue what was going on. To have to drive through the night to Heysham is ludicrous. Given my disability this simply wasn’t an option. Luckily, we were told we could check in at the Thistle Hotel, paid for by the Steam Packet.’
As the Ben was also very busy it was not possible to accommodate all vehicles, so some remained in Liverpool.
The Manannan resumed her schedule shortly after midday on Tuesday, after specialist engineers repaired a fault to the vessel’s electric control system.
Mr Woodward said the decision by the ship’s captain to cancel the sailing had been a difficult one and it is always the aim of the Steam Packet to sail unless safety concerns or technical issues make that impossible.
Only a fortnight earlier the Steam Packet had been forced to defend the decision to sail the Manannan to Douglas through the remnants of Hurricane Bertha in a five-hour crossing that left passengers anxious and seasick and vehicles damaged.
Mr Woodward insisted the issue on Monday could not be fixed by on-board engineers and when it became clear there was no option but to cancel the sailing, passengers were ‘informed immediately’ and arrangements for accommodation and transfers were made.
He said: ‘This was a very busy sailing and due to the Bank Holiday it was extremely difficult to find sufficient accommodation and not possible to find coaches to transfer foot passengers to Heysham.
‘Despite it being a busy Bank Holiday weekend in Liverpool, our staff managed to secure more than 150 hotel rooms, transfer 85 vehicles to an alternative sailing and even secured the conference room at the Thistle Hotel which, whilst not ideal, did provide a warm and safe place for people to rest if they chose to.
‘Every attempt was made to keep passengers on board informed as the situation developed, with the captain making nine announcements, and to communicate with those whose travel was affected by the cancellation.’