HUNDREDS of passengers have made it safely ashore after fierce weather stranded a massive ferry off the coast of France for almost 20 hours.
Up to 300 French students were among the 500 people on board the Irish Ferries sailing from the south-east of Ireland to Cherbourg.
An Irish Ferries spokesman said the Oscar Wilde ferry finally docked on its fifth attempt, almost 24 hours behind schedule.
A crew member who suffered a suspected broken ankle when a line snapped during one of the attempts has been taken to hospital.
The Oscar Wilde left Rosslare at around 6pm on Sunday and was due to arrive at Cherbourg at 2pm Monday. It initially arrived five hours late but was prevented from docking at the port due to high winds and heavy seas.
“On arrival, weather conditions were poor and dockside was heavily iced,” a spokesman said.
“Assisted by tugs, the vessel attempted to dock but was unsuccessful. Because of heavy weather and difficulty in docking, it was decided that the safest option was that the vessel should withdraw to stand off at anchor outside the port.
“During the night three further efforts to dock were made without success. To complicate matters further, it is understood that the port area and roads around Cherbourg are gripped by snow and icy conditions.”
Irish Ferries said the vessel circled outside the port this morning until the wind direction changed, making its fifth docking attempt successful.
The injured crew member was cared for on-board by two passengers who are doctors.
“There were approximately 500 passengers on board including a number of French school students returning from a visit to Ireland,” the spokesman said.
“Save for the obvious discomfort of being delayed from going ashore, everyone on board was safe and reported to be in good spirits, are comfortable and were well catered for on board.”
The ferry is due to make its scheduled return sailing to Rosslare later today.