Err. I shouldn't be here writing this...I should be with my family with our very good friends in Germany beginning to toast in the New Year.
Why is that? I hear you ask.....
Well....it is all due to this episode - DFDS North Sea Ferry to Amsterdam which happened last Saturday evening.
I thought we could give our account of it all here:
We embarked on the DFDS ferry as normal - parked our car on the 6th deck and then went up to our cabin on the 11th deck.
[We had travelled to Holland using this route before when my sister got married in Italy in the summer of 2008. It was a fantastic trip there and back. We were also lucky enough to do a massive trip of Europe taking in quite a few countries. Wonderful memories! (Search for 'Italy' on this blog and those posts turn up.)]
Once we had unpacked our things and the children had changed bunks about five times we went up to one of the bars to get some tea and coffee. After our thirsts had been quenched we then looked around the duty free shop...as young master R (aged 7) was desperate to spend some of his Christmas present money.
The ferry sailed as normal from North Shields at 5pm on the dot. As we were leaving the port we were informed that the crew were undertaking a training exercise with a life boat for the newer crew members. We were told not to be alarmed and we were not. We were more interested in what we would be having for our meal in the Seven Seas Restaurant. It was extremely yummy and the children were incredibly impressed by having their own serving area of different foods plus open access to an ice cream making machine. Sprinkles and ice cream galore!
We were relaxing a lot as we have not had a proper holiday all year and we were looking forward to seeing our friends who live near Bremerhaven. They (G&M) met, as a couple, whilst working/visiting Nigel's scuba diving centre in Hurghada...Red Sea...Egypt where I met Nigel too...but that is a whole other story! (I have also blogged about this...search for posts on Egypt...if you are interested.)
Once we had finished our meal...I took the children to our cabin whilst Nigel read the papers and had a nightcap. We all went to bed fairly early. K, aged 10, has a vivid sense of imagination and kept asking 'What do we do...if it sinks?' We assured her that she was not to worry and that nothing would happen.
Around 11pm or so...(I had not gone to sleep as the cabin was rather warm) there was a funny beep, beep, beep through the ship's public address system. Normally they (DFDS) make announcements a bit like 'Hi-de-Hi' with a xylophone and then a voice announcement but this time it sounded distinctly odd. Nothing was announced so I thought it was a mistake. About five minutes later it sounded again and kept going...and there WAS an announcement...I think they did say that there had been a fire on board...that we had to get ready and go outside on deck. We got out of our berths and started to put on our clothes. It was at that point that R began to cry. Nigel concentrated on calming him down and we continued to get dressed. I was glad that I had remembered to bring the children's coats, hats, scarves and those of my own. Nigel could stand in a force 10 gale and still be too hot. K insisted on not wearing any socks or tights whilst wearing her diamante sandals (!!)
We were billeted near a door to the exit and we met another young couple standing there with two very small children. They said that it was freezing outside where everyone was assembled by the lifeboats. We dawdled there for a couple of minutes but were soon ordered to go outside (on no uncertain terms) by a female crew member.
We went outside on deck. We were thanking our lucky stars that the weather was nowhere near as stormy as it had been recently. There was a fairly stiff breeze..it was cold but it was OK if you were wrapped up. We had brought a fleece blanket for K. Nigel hugged R to keep him warm and the crew members came round with sheets - especially for young children and anyone who looked cold. Various 'disaster'* scenes kept playing in my head (not least The Herald of Free Enterprise disaster and the Costa Concordia debacle with Captain Rollerskate/Schettino). I tried not to let it show to the children...but standing very near the life boats...I couldn't help imagine what it would be like to actually have to get in one on the High Seas!
There was a party atmosphere if anything. People were taking photos and a well behaved stag group (who were on the other side of the corridor) were joking. They had amused me by carrying around a blow up doll and when they saw the children they kept apologising and saying please/thank you/sorry. And yes...they were British and not Dutch!
Crew members were in high visibility jackets and carrying loud hailers...occasionally they would make announcements when they had more info from the captain. We were not outside long when we were told to follow one crew member. Passengers were incredibly polite...letting women, children, old folks go first. Nobody pushed and everyone was friendly and helping one another. The decks were a bit wet so everyone calmly walked down the stairs and into the nightclub area where we had to congregate.
The time now was around midnight so we were only outside for about twenty minutes or so. Everyone sat down in a slightly smoky (through smoked cigarettes) environment in the nightclub. We sat down and soon a Dutch couple with a baby sat next to us. I had also remembered to bring a canister of water with us. Again everything was calm...everyone sat around waiting for announcements. Those came via staff with loud hailers and there were a few from the captain via the public announcement system. We were told that we had to stay there whilst they checked that the fire was completely out and contained. We were not told very much apart from that. The captain also asked if there was anyone on board who was a doctor or nurse to go and help with people suffering from smoke inhalation. Pretty soon we did know that the fire had been quite small and contained to one cabin. Smoke had got out into the corridor on the sixth floor port side.
At first we all thought that we would be carrying on to Amsterdam as normal and it was announced that this would happen. A cheer went up. Pretty soon after we were told that other authorities were involved and that we would have to return to North Shields. People were less happy but there was no great commotion. A fight did break out but as far as we could see it was of the verbal variety under the influence of alcohol. One of that group was trying to talk down a very vociferous woman who was being antagonistic to someone else. They eventually got up and walked out.
Crew were bringing round glasses of water all the time (very sensible) and were providing free coffee. It was getting very hot as it was a cramped environment. It was announced fairly quickly that a helicopter would be winching crew and passengers off the ship who had been affected by smoke inhalation. People rushed to the windows to watch this happening. I did not move as R had fallen asleep in one chair and K was taking photos. Nigel was getting coffee. It was all calm and the Captain and crew kept us fully informed at all times. Although, quite rightly, they only told us a minimum amount of information so that no-one got panicky. All the passengers helped each other...with information and passing on of drinks and translating....
Nigel has had experience of dealing with clients on boats and he was trained, as house manager at the Barbican, to be ready to deal with mass evacuations of people. He was very impressed with how they were dealing with it all. If anything, they deliberately downplayed the seriousness of it..as soon the Police would be involved.
We were up in the nightclub for a couple of hours. People were falling asleep in chairs and on the floor. I think in some cases they stayed there for the whole night.
Around 1.30/2.00 am we were told that we could return to our cabins and that we would be docking in North Shields at 5am. We went back to get some sleep. The children were exhausted. We had sent texts to friends and relatives that we were OK but were not sure what would happen in the morning.
Around 6.30/7.00 am DFDS announced that there would be free breakfast/brunch/lunch served to all passengers. We took turns to go and have something to eat and drink. Yes...breakfast was minimal (ish) but not surprising given that the staff had been up all night and normally you have to pay for all your meals.
From 8am I was tweeting the situation live at @hadrianasblog and would like to thank everyone again for their tweets. They cheered us up and also gave us information that supplemented that of DFDS...which was very frequent.
From 11.30am foot passengers got off the ferry first. We had a big meeting then where the Captain explained that the Police were still completing their investigations so that meant the ferry could not continue to Holland. Alternative arrangements were offered via the DFDS route today (Hull-Rotterdam). We felt very sorry for all the disruption that had been caused to anyone who had to get across to Holland and elsewhere. There was one lady who had a job interview in Holland today. Here's hoping she made that interview.
Naturally we were disappointed that we could not continue with our holiday and see our very good friends. We've not seen them since 2008...we keep talking about meeting up in the UK, Germany and diving holidays elsewhere. Govert joked with me today that we live in 'Hotel California UK' in that we can never get off the island!
Nevertheless we are more than happy to be safe back on dry land. The children are certainly fine about travelling by ferry again. K says that she will do the trip as long as it is with DFDS. Praise indeed! We cannot praise the crew and Captain enough for their even-handedness, calm and collection in the face of what must have been (for them) quite a tricky situation with almost 1000 people on board.
We finally left the boat in our car at 12.15pm yesterday. We saw sunlight and headed off to have some marvellous lunch at Vallum Farm.
All is well that ends well. Happy New Year to you all. Wishing everyone a safe and uneventful 2014!
* meaning of disaster dis=bad (Latin perjorative prefix) aster= (Latin 'astrum-a') = star (2nd declension neuter noun) so literally disaster = "bad star"