A FIRE on a ferry which sparked a major rescue operation off the Yorkshire coast when it was carrying 1,000 people was started by a drunken passenger who was smoking cannabis in a cabin, a court has heard.
Boden George Hughes, 26, admitted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered when he appeared yesterday for a brief hearing at Newcastle Crown Court, where his trial had been due to start.
The fire on the DFDS Newcastle to Amsterdam service happened at about 11pm on December 28 when the vessel was 30 miles off the North Yorkshire coast. Six people were winched off the ferry by the RAF and helicoptered to hospital.
Hughes, who also admitted affray, pleaded guilty to arson on the basis that he was drunk, was smoking cannabis in a bong, and the fire started when his lighter’s flame set a pile of clothes ablaze. He had altered his lighter so it produced a constant flame, he claimed.
Judge James Goss, the Recorder of Newcastle, will sentence Hughes, of Fulwell Road, Sunderland, in September. Hughes was remanded in custody and warned to expect a lengthy prison sentence.
Judge Goss said: “Be under no illusions as to the seriousness of the crimes you have admitted today. This (arson) was a very serious offence which will attract a substantial sentence of imprisonment.”
Ian Lawrie QC, prosecuting, said figures will be produced at the next hearing to show the losses incurred by DFDS after the fire. He said the helicopter rescue alone cost £50,000.
The King Seaways vessel was carrying 946 people at the time of the fire, as well as crew.