Car deck collapses on ferry (Update 8)

Dramatic photo shows one side of the ferry car deck collapsed, loaded with cars.

Fishbourne Car ferry - upper deck collapse by Richard Chantler

A car deck loaded with cars on one side of the Wightlink ferry has collapsed at Fishbourne this evening.

The ambulance service called the fire brigade at 22:28 this evening.

OnTheWight was told be the fire service that by 22:47 all casualties had been taken to hospital by ambulance.

The fire service was called as was viewed as a dangerous structure.

It currently looks like there’s been no risk to life.

A statement about those taken to hospital has now been issued

Description by someone at the scene

I can confirm four casualties, two head injuries and two suspected spinal injuries.

Fire and police attend very quickly and coastguard teams followed, from Ryde, Bembridge and Newport.

Everyone was removed who could be moved, ambulance crews attend and took casualties to St. Marys Hospital and then the ramp was lowered at the other side to remove cars for better access to remove damaged cars.

Total time of incident was 2 hours and 30 minutes with change around of the planned 23:00 crossing, which left at 00:37 – the other ferry had to wait just a mile off of the dock.

Wightlink statement issued at 03:30

The St Helen car ferry, the 21:30 sailing from Portsmouth Gunwharf with 181 passengers and 11 crew on board, arrived at Fishbourne at 22:16. As part of the usual disembarkation process, after vehicles on the lower deck had left the ship, the starboard forward mezzanine deck with nine cars on board was lowered. When it was a short distance from the deck below, it dropped a few feet and made contact with the lower deck.

One member of the crew and three passengers have been taken to St Mary’s Hospital by ambulance. The Isle of Wight ambulance service has confirmed none of the injuries are life-threatening. A member of Wightlink’s staff attended the hospital to aid and support customers.

A full investigation into the incident is underway. The incident has been reported to the Marine Accident Investigation Branch and Wightlink is fully co-operating with the authorities. St Helen, in common with all Wightlink ferries, is inspected regularly by external surveyors. The last independent engineering survey of the ship, including its mezzanine decks, took place in May 2014 during her annual refit.

What can be told from the photo
The photo shows one corner of the raised deck significantly lower and the cars listing towards that front edge. The deck appears full of cars.

The cars are facing toward the port, implying that the St Helen was arriving to the Island.

The other side of the ferry is fully clear, so it’s hoped that no cars were underneath the deck that fell, although there has been no official word on this.

Further info
Wightlink haven’t, as yet, made any official statement.

Unsurprisingly, there will be delays on the Wightlink ferry service this evening – Confirmed by Portsmouth Police.

Click on photo for larger image
Wightlink upper car deck collapse by Richard Chantler and 'Spudy'

Our thoughts are with everyone affected.

Isle of Wight Ambulance Service statement

At 22:22 on Friday 18th July 2014 Isle of Wight Ambulance Service were alerted to an incident at Wightlink’s Fishbourne terminal.

A paramedic in a rapid response car and a ‘Bronze’ command officer in another car were despatched to the scene immediately. The Ambulance Service designated it as a significant incident and subsequently deployed two emergency ambulances to the scene as part of a multi agency response to the incident.

Four patients were conveyed from the scene to St. Mary’s Hospital. However none have life threatening injuries.

As at 00:10 on Saturday 19th July 2014 the paramedic and Bronze command officer remain on the scene as part of the multi agency response to ensure that no other passengers or staff have sustained injuries.

List of updates to article
Update 00:30 Added description of what could be seen in photo
Update 00:20 Added Isle of Wight Ambulance Service update
Update 00:35 Added awaiting Wightlink statement
Update 00:51 Added Pompey police confirm later ferry delays
Update 01:03 Added description from someone at the scene
03:30Wightlink statement issued at
Update 09:55 Added link to statement from NHS
Update 13:13 Added link to HD photo set
Update 20 July 22:13 Added link to snapped cable photo set
Update 21 July 09:06 Added link to Radio Solent interview

Image: © Richard Chantler and ‘Spudy’

Saturday, 19th July, 2014 12:21am



Filed under: Ferry, Fishbourne, Top story

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59 Comments on "Car deck collapses on ferry (Update 8)"

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The Sciolist
My thoughts are with those injured and involved, it must have been quite a shock. I know the Marine Accident Investigation branch will thoroughly investigate the cause of this accident, but I am surprised that this is possible. Most lifts that carry vehicles or humans involving cables, hydraulics and power have fail-safe back-up systems. Wightlink ships appear not to have these back-ups? If they did, this accident… Read more »

Sciolist — To blame Wighlink for the design isn’t fair. Maintenance and operation, perhaps, we have to wait and see.

Dennis Thon

I’m guessing an air lock in the hydraulic system or seal failure. I’m also guessing that someone must have been ‘topping up’ fluid levels due to leakage??


Surely there should be a safety feature fitted on the Ferry to prevent this sort of thing happening,Maybe they should check the other ferrys as they too have an age on them. As i use this Ferry Service on a regular bases it does leave pause to concern now

In my opinion this was an accident waiting to happen. Last time I was on St.Clare I was thinking what an old rust bucket it was.. Wightlink may have employed robotic smiley staff as ” hosts ” who seem hopelessly lost as to what to do with their roles on the passenger decks, but they would be better off addressing the maintenance and appearance of their ships.… Read more »

You would think they would invest some of the huge ticket prices on making the ships safe to travel in! ….I expect it to cost an arm and a leg every time I travel Wigthlink but not risk my entire life! I hope everyone involved is ok …..can’t say I will be looking forward to my next crossing!


Had I been in my car there, it would have freaked me out. The shock must have been quite something for all involved, whether needing hopsital attention or not.


Perhaps best to wait for the MAIB report. Could be mechanical mal-function or human error or intentional cutting corners on operating practice to save time.

Those interested should check out other MAIB reports. Their safety notice on the two Duck Duck DUKWs incidents in Liverpool and London make for sober reading.


Sadly, I’ve limited confidence in the MCA and MAIB.

In so far as I can determine there is still no full, public disclosure regarding the Solent Express incident of 30 Oct 2011. The MCA refused to release information around their investigation.



Never liked being loaded under those mezzanine decks. I know why now!!


I’m having nightmares about my next journey off the Island this weekend all ready!

Mike Izzard
My family and I have enjoyed many trips on Wightlink ferries over the years and I have to say it has always been a very pleasant experience. The staff do a wonderful job sometimes under great pressure especially the cleaners who have only a short time to clean up after us messy lot before the ship turns for another crossing. Things do break from time to time… Read more »

Well, a perfect score. We could be forgiven for thinking its a well written company statement..


I know what it’s like to incorrectly be connected here with an organisation, but surely all those confident statistics and minimising of this incident in favour of an overall record (of 160 years!) are the giveaways? But such heartless dismissal wouldn’t have been officially put out by Wightlink.

Drama Queens indeed.

gullible's travels
Mike Izzard, in response to your comment: Despite you and your family’s enjoyment tripping on Wightlink ferries over the years, yesterday’s experience was not a happy one, nor very pleasant! I agree, the staff probably were full of wonder at how the pressure of the steel deck and over 9 cars proved too great. Maybe this time the cleaners have more time to clean up the mess.… Read more »

WL PR is always with us! :-))


Travel by Red Funnel instead. Friendly and helpful staff, modern, well equipped comfortable ferries and all at 1/3rd the cost of Wightlink.

Mike, please tell me yours was a tongue in cheek post? My family and I haven’t enjoyed many trips on Wightlink Ferries over the years. Can’t say we have with the other lot either to be fair, but then, there isn’t much of a choice for competition when it comes to vehicle crossings. Someone earlier described the St Clare as a rust bucket, and to be honest,… Read more »

It will indeed be interesting to find out whether it was a pure fluke, and things could have been far far worse. Glad I’m usually a foot/rail passenger!

During regular crossings to the mainland, sitting in the car (when you were allowed to stay in your vehicle), on the lower deck beneath a fully loaded mezzanine deck, I often found myself looking up at the rusty fittings and always reassured myself with “It’s only surface rust. There must be on-going safety checks all the time.” Sad for those involved – very likely visitors to the… Read more »

I think that Wightlink’s ineptitude is summed up by them boasting with immense pride that in a survey 80% of passengers were happy. So they think that 1 in 5 being unhappy is a good result ! Time for the Monopolies commission, Environmental health, and Department Of Transport to set up an independent enquiry to the whole rotten service…

Well what can you say, a ferry that has been in service sense 1983 so over 30 years old and has long seen it’s best days along with the rest of the fleet that wightlink operate who charge the earth for a forty minute crossing. Don’t they think it’s about time they moved with the time and got ferry’s that can cater for modern day cars which… Read more »
The Sciolist

Thankfully Wightlink don’t run an airline.


The thought of WL being linked to RipOffAir is scary!

Jason knight
Between wight link and Red funnel we are all held to ransom by such consistent ridiculous pricing and inept service. These are business that should and would not exist if there were realistic competition and/or state intervention. This is not acceptable such vast fares should ensure modern rust free boats that are fail safe. My thoughts are with the injured and lets hope there is no lasting… Read more »
About time the Portsmouth/Fishbourne and Ryde as well as the Cowes and East Cowes/Southampton were treated as an extension of the motorway network. We are no longer a low populated Island, but are reliant to the Mainland connection for commerce and work. Never understood how the various tribunal judges come with the verdict that there is no monopoly. If you work in Southampton, you don’t travel via… Read more »
When I was at work last week in Portsmouth, one of my colleagues was online looking to book a trip to the Island on the Wightlink car ferry and she couldn’t believe the cost. For her and her husband and children, it costs as much to come here as to fly up to Scotland. She couldn’t believe it. I could. I’m leaving the Island in August with… Read more »
Vanda french
I’ve been travelling via wightlink all my life. Whilst this was a very unfortunate accident/incident it’ is of course very disturbing for all those involved. I’ve personally not experienced or heard of any like this occurring in 46 yrs of travelling. Yes the prices are extortionate but the safety and comfort of passengers have always been foremost of the Wightlink company. Travelling via red funnel can not… Read more »

I have to say, I’m always really nervous going back to the car and having to shimmy between lorries while the boat is still moving and about to bump against the dock. I’m surprised we haven’t had a crushing accident.

The Sciolist
By now most of us will have seen the frayed/broken cable that failed and allowed the deck to collapse. This does look like a maintenance issue, why did no-one see it was fraying, is it regularly inspected? These are the questions that will be asked by the investigation. A single cable is made up of hundreds, often thousands of strands all bundled together. It’s how suspension bridges… Read more »

I haven’t seen that picture. A broken cable does not mean that the break was the *cause*, it might have been a *consequence*.


It’s fairly easy to google and see the picture, but I don’t have the expertise to interpret it in any way. Obviously any frayed cable on board would be (gulp) a worry.

Seeing related onboard pictures the event looks even more alarming to me.

gullible's travels

Ah, that’s interesting (didn’t know that). I agree that if the cable break looks frayed then it probably deteriorated gradually, as opposed to a sudden cut.

Maybe it’s time that these mezzanine decks were fitted with some sort of secondary safety device (like when/if a lift cable were to fail then there’s a fail safe to catch it/prevent it from plummeting down the lift shaft).


I have noticed on past trips that there are safety clips that lock-on when the mezzanine is in the raised position.

They are probably unclipped to raise/lower the deck so would be ineffective in a cable failure.


Clearly there are going to be serious questions. This accident was not supposed to be ‘possible’ yet it happened. I shan’t alter my traveling arrangements until the facts become clear(er) to me.

I do expect an interim report describing the nature of the failure and apparent cause – i.e. not necessarily covering ‘blame’ – within eight weeks. If not, I shall become wary.

The Sciolist
The cable appears to support the entire weight either up or down as the deck is raised/lowered. You would imagine that in a harsh salt water environment, they are regularly inspected and replaced. I saw a programme recently on suspension bridges. They cables they use, bundled in the thousands, do corrode and CAN fail. They have sensors to ‘hear’ the strands snapping on the world’s biggest, longest… Read more »
Equipment breaks on all things regardless of maintenance. From the crooked look of the deck it appears the failsafe came into action. Otherwise there would be a lot more damage. Just remember it was a few feet from the ground when it failed. It would take a miracle to stop dead. It might even be the cable which is the device that is meant to snap, which… Read more »
Not sure how you define ‘a few feet’. Seems to be on the order of 6 feet. Also not sure about the logic of the a safety device coming into play based on your observation of the ‘crooked look of the deck’. If you consider the lower deck to be the ‘failsafe’ device which came into action, then I’d agree with your statement. However, I do NOT… Read more »

Believe what you like, your mind has already be made up, so no reasoning will make it any different.

Really, RJC? I simply introduced facts in response to your beliefs. Fact: ‘… a few feet ..’ drop was a PR statement from Wightlink which may or may not be accurate; it is a PR statement after all. The WightLink PR statement appears to be inaccurate based on the following: Fact: From a photo on this site (see link, below), one can roughly estimate the vertical difference… Read more »
The Sciolist

RJC does that mean you accept airplanes and helicopters dropping out of the sky when things break and we should all just shrug?

Maintenance means identifying weakness and stopping potential problems before disaster strikes. Cables, exposed to the open sea must be liable to wear and corrosion, I would hope they are properly checked, not just part of a tick box list for the sub-contract engineers.


Aircraft maintenance engineers have to sign off a ‘Fit to Fly” legal document.

Do ferry maintenance engineers have to sign off a “Fit to Sail” legal document?

gullible's travels
I do not blame anyone. Especially not Macquarie. After all they’re only in the business of power and money. And Wightlink is just one of their money input devices. Ship’s staff wear company uniform which signifies that they only do as told by their managers, whose backs, I am convinced, are covered in multiple layers of at least A4 size paper with inpenetrable stamps and signatures. Finally,… Read more »
The boat MOT ers are their get out of jail card, along with having public liability insurance, and that wonderful sound bite “lessons will be learned” will no doubt be somewhere in their official statement after the outcome of any investigation is made public, along with “move along now, nothing to see here”. No one will be blamed or held accountable, they never are in today’s society.… Read more »

Its simple really. An essential ferry link is part of the national infrastructure and should never be sold to or owned by a private enterprise where there is never any chance for real competition , and certainly not to an investment company which only has its shareholders interests at its core.


Ah, so if it’s owned by the State it’ll be a good and cost effective service? You didn’t live during the 1980s and before?


Yes indeed I did, when we had a great railway system as well. Now we have toothless organisations like Ofgen and Ofcom who waste millions pretending to control these parasitical giants. Tell me how much competition you have in your area for water ?? Privatisation provides competition ?? Its a joke and a mass con trick…they are all laughing all the ay to the Bank..

Brian l Largan
I have been using I o wight ferry services many years . And yes most these ferris are Getting old . Cars are huch wider than 30 years ago . I always find I struggle to get out , And same getting in . At £ 113 oo a pop . It’s time new ferrys are needed. What if people refused to park under these l lifts… Read more »

Good point Brian Largan, it has occurred to me that there may be a bit of a jostle now, to try to get into what is perceived to be the safest position on the ferry, (I’m not clear about where that would be).

As regards width, are we sure it’s the cars and not the people that have got wider? ;-)


There’s not been any mention of whether any cars were damaged.
Anyone know what damage happens to a car when it drops six feet?


And whether a human head would bang into the car ceiling …


When my friends on the mainland ask me if the island is still stuck in the 50’s – I often say yes – the 1650’s – if we could get away with it, we would still be burning witches!


That’s fine as long as it’s done in an environmentally friendly manner.


Having read the posts above I would just like to clear the matter of how far the deck dropped. It actually went up whilst we were in our cars for some reason then the front left fell the distance it had raised by and then the full height of the floor below, which in itself is far more than six foot.

gullible's travels
Wow, that little detail is news to me! Wightlink’s story sounds soo different (“…the…mezzanine deck… was lowered. When it was a short distance from the deck below, it dropped a few feet and made contact with the lower deck.). I assume Wightlink made the deck go up to remove the at-rest-securements. Which must mean that the deck must’ve been at it’s heighest possible height when the frayed… Read more »

I’ve booked a day crossing to the Isle of Wight, if I had read this report I would have been tempted not to use Wight link ferries! Why don’t they build a dam bridge, it s close enough?

mike muston

Isle of wight ferry on dry land in Westminster ?

mike muston

my comment was to do with accuracy, the location map on the story at the bottom is wrong !