Winds of up to 100km per hour swept into Melbourne on Wednesday night causing the iconic Spirit of Tasmania II to break its moorings and crash into a pier.

Spirit of Tasmania damaged in freak storm

Spirit of Tasmania damaged in freak storm Image by Ian Armstrong / CC BY-SA 2.0

According to witnesses the ship drifted at a 90˚ angle to Station Pier then collided with the car bridge at around 6.15pm, causing damage to the front of the vessel. By 8pm several tugboats had arrived at the scene and towed the passenger ferry back into position.

“I’ve never seen anything like it… for about 10 to 15 minutes, the winds were just huge,” onlooker, Bernie told The Age newspaper. “All of a sudden the ship started drifting sideways, then there was this big bang… it looked like the pedestrian bridge smashed into the pier.”

Passenger John Seaman agreed, telling Australia’s ABC network, “We were lined up to board the vessel and then a gust of wind came up and all of a sudden it appears the moorings snapped on the boat and it turned around on about a 90-degree angle.”

Mr Seaman was one of around 650 passengers waiting to board the ship for the overnight crossing from Melbourne to Devonport, Tasmania when the boat broke its moorings. Though the full extent of the damage is not yet known, both the front of the ship and boarding ramp were affected and must be repaired before the ferry can sail again.

Passengers waiting to board the ferry when the storm swept through were accommodated onboard overnight and will be issued a full refund for their passage.

The Spirit of Tasmania II’s sister vessel, Spirit of Tasmania I, left Devonport for Melbourne on Wednesday evening, arriving on Thursday afternoon (local time). Passengers who were attempting to return home to Tasmania on the Spirit of Tasmania II will be accommodated on the Spirit of Tasmania I as soon as possible. However, it is still unclear whether there will be room onboard for the cars that were offloaded from the damaged Spirit of Tasmania II on Thursday morning.

Spirit of Tasmania I will operate under a double sailing schedule until repairs on the Spirit of Tasmania II are completed.