A FIRE broke out on board a ferry carrying 400 passengers across the North Sea on its way to Harwich.

Ten fire crews were called to tackle a blaze which broke out on the Stena Britannica while it was en route from Hoek van Holland to Harwich International Port shortly before 4.20am this morning.

When the smoked-logged ship docked at about 5am, firefighters raced to try to quell the blaze which had started on a refrigerator lorry on a lower deck before it spread to several lorries.

Incident commander Lee Lucas said: “As the fire was on a lower deck of the ship and in a confined space, the area had become smoke logged and was difficult to access.

“Once on board, firefighters began tackling the fire in sections and brought it under control quickly despite difficult conditions.”

Justin Hannam, 47, a lorry driver who was on board at the time of the fire, said: “A third alarm siren went off at about 2.30am and all the lorry drivers had to get up as there was heavy smoke coming from the end of the corridor.

“We were about three hours out of Holland and in the middle of the sea when the fire started.

“The crew had to take all of the passengers to the muster station which was in the restaurant at the front of the vessel.”

HM Coastguard received a radio broadcast from the ferry when it was 6.5 miles east of Orford Ness in Suffolk alerting it to the fire at 3am.

An HM Coastguard spokesman said: “It was reported the fire had been extinguished, however, it later reignited as the ferry came alongside in Harwich.”

Mr Hannam said: “Lorry drivers are on and off boats every day but we are not used to anything like this happening.

“The only thing that really panicked us was the smoke that we were breathing in as it was coming into our cabin.

“The one or two lorries which started the fire melted into the metal of the boat.

“It really was a major incident and could have been dangerous for the passengers.

“The crew of the boat did a marvellous job of keeping everybody calm in a safe and controlled dangerous situation.”

The fire was extinguished by 7am and firefighters remained on board to tackle hotspots to ensure the scene was safe.

A spokesman from Stena Line said passengers were led off the vessel and no no-one was injured.

An investigation into the cause of the fire will be carried out.