French Rescue Tug Tows RoPax Irish Ferry After Channel Fire

ferry disabled in English Channel
French rescue tug pulled the RoPax ferry to port (Préfecture Maritime Manche et Mer du Nord)

Published Mar 6, 2023 4:25 PM by The Maritime Executive

French and British authorities scrambled on March 3 after receiving a report that a RoPax ferry in the middle of the English Channel was adrift after experiencing an engine room fire. The 30-year-old ferry Isle of Innisfree, registered in Cyprus and operated by Irish Ferries, had 94 passengers and 89 crew aboard for an early evening Channel crossing.

The Préfecture Maritime Manche et Mer du Nord and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) responded to the call which was received at 18:25 on March 3. The French rescue tug Abeille Normandie stationed in Boulogne-sur-Mer was dispatched on what became her first ferry rescue since arriving at the station in May 2022. RNLI from Dover, Dungeness, and Ramsgate each dispatched one of their lifeboats to the scene.

The British authorities reported that they arrived at the ferry by 1900 liaising with the captain and crew of the vessel. The 28,833 gross ton ferry had experienced a fire in its engine room which was discovered at around 17:30 according to Irish Ferries. The crew was able to contain and extinguish the fire with the onboard systems but there was smoke from the fire. The passengers were assembled at muster stations during the incident.

The French authorities are reporting that they were told the vessel was unable to restart its engines after the fire and began drifting in the busy English Channel. The captain lowered the anchors in an attempt to control the 535-foot long vessel. They were approximately 9 nautical miles off the Port of Dover when the RNLI reached the vessel.


(Préfecture Maritime Manche et Mer du Nord)


The Isle of Innisfree has been operating the 21-mile run between Dover and Calais since December 2021 when she was acquired by Irish Ferries. The vessel was built in 1992 at the Boelwerf shipyard in Belgium and has a capacity for a maximum of 1,140 passengers, 87 freight trailers, and a maximum of 600 cars depending on the amount of freight aboard. 

“The quick thinking and professionalism of the captain and his crew ultimately averted what could have been a much larger crisis and we would like to commend the captain for his actions that night,” Coxswain Aaron O’Boyle of the Dover RNLI lifeboat station said in a statement.

The RNLI was working on an evacuation plan for the vessel but in consultation with the ship and the French, they determined the ship was in no immediate danger. As she was bound for Calais, the decision was made that the French tug would tow the ferry to port. The tow commenced before midnight and the ferry arrived in Calais on the morning of March 4. The RNLI decided to stand down at 21:45 and its three vessels returned to base.

Irish Ferries issued a statement apologizing for the incident and lauding the crew for its actions to extinguish the fire. Passengers booked on the ferry have been transferred to other vessels while an investigation is ongoing into the cause of the fire. Trips aboard the Isle of Innisfree are currently canceled through March 7.