The incident 

As UK MAIB informs, it was at 0633 on Tuesday 18 December 2018 when the roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) passenger ferry "European Causeway" was dealing with very heavy seas in its voyage from Larne, Northern Ireland to Cairnryan, Scotland.

During European Causeway’s departure from Larne, the wind was close to the company’s limits for departing port and the master experienced some difficulty manoeuvring the ship’s bow through the
wind. However, the ship was clear of the berth by 0546.

Sailing under rough weather conditions, the ro-ro ferry unexpectedly rolled heavily, causing several freight vehicles to shift and nine to topple over. This violent motion harmed 22 vehicles with some of them reported to have serious damages.

European Causeway experienced several large rolls. The wind was blowing between 40 and 50kts gusting to 60kts from the south-south-east, and the waves created by the wind were very large from the same direction. This was causing the ship to roll and yaw. At 0629 the the officer of the watch altered course to starboard and brought the ship onto a course of 060°. About 4 minutes later, European Causeway rolled 20° to starboard, then yawed violently to starboard, achieving a rate of turn in excess of 100° per minute.

Six freight vehicle drivers had stayed in their cabs on the vehicle decks while experiencing the crossing and four were also found in cabs of vehicles which had toppled over. As a result, one driver ended up trapped and had to be freed by the emergency services when the ship arrived in Cairnryan.


For the records, "European Causeway" was loaded with 40 accompanied freight vehicles, 2 unaccompanied freight vehicles, 36 unaccompanied semi-trailers, 3 cars and 5 minibuses embarked.

Probable cause 

With the night master’s decision to sail in heavy weather influenced by the decision of European Highlander’s more experienced master, the UK MAIB highlights that the accident occurred because the ferry rolled heavily in rough seas and its cargo had not been adequately secured.

Moreover, the rough weather conditions had been forecast and the accident would almost certainly have been avoided had European Causeway’s sailing been delayed until 0900 when the wind speed, as forecasted, dropped significantly.

Lessons learned

  1. The route being followed had not been adjusted sufficiently to mitigate the effects of the sea conditions and reduce the likelihood of severe rolling.
  2. The cargo lashings applied were insufficient for the forecasted weather conditions and the ship’s approved cargo securing manual provided limited guidance to ship’s staff.
  3. The passengers who remained in their vehicles during the passage endangered themselves and compromised the safety of other passengers and crew. This problem is not unique to P&O Ferries Ltd and requires industry-wide collaboration to eliminate it.

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