The Spirit of Tasmania II broke free of its moorings and crashed into a pier in Port Melbourne during a wild storm on Wednesday.
Spirit of Tasmania tugged back to pier after crash
Wild winds had wrenched the ferry from its moorings, causing it to crash into a pier in Port Melbourne. Courtesy ABC News 24.
Witnesses said the ship drifted until it was at a 90-degree angle to Station Pier by about 6pm and collided with part of the pier, causing damage to the front of the vessel.
By 8pm, tugboats had towed the Spirit of Tasmania II back in line with the pier, and it was then secured.
However, the ship did not sail for Davenport on Wednesday night, as scheduled, and its sister ship, Spirit of Tasmania I, will not sail to Melbourne until engineers have assessed the damage to the ship.
An announcement over the loudspeaker about 9pm told passengers that they could board the vessel while repairs were conducted if they had nowhere else to stay, and would be served dinner.
Passengers who had booked accommodation could access their cabins for the night.
A Spirit of Tasmania spokesman confirmed the majority of the 650 booked passengers had opted to stay on the vessel overnight while 232 cars remained on board and could not be unloaded.
The ship's boarding ramp was badly damaged when winds wrenched the ship away from its moorings and, late on Wednesday night, there was still not indication on when it would be seaworthy.
A Spirit of Tasmania spokeswoman confirmed that some moorings had broken loose in heavy winds, which reached 100km/h at nearby St Kilda Beach at the time, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
A severe weather warning was issued for Melbourne about 5.30pm as the mercury began to drop after it reached nearly 42 degrees during the day.
French tourist Nicoles Nouchet was meant to board the Spirit of Tasmania II on Wednesday evening but was left in limbo, waiting at the waterfront.
"It was like a little tornado ... at about 6 o'clock, the wind was so strong you could feel the sand in your face, there were deck chairs flying around," he said.
Spirit of Tasmania crashes into pier
The Spirit of Tasmania breaks free of its moorings and crashes into a pier in Port Melbourne, causing sever damage. (Vision Seven News Melbourne)
"We heard a loud noise and it came really close to the shore."
An onlooker, Bernie, who was having fish and chips with his family on the beach, watched the drama unfold.
"I've never seen anything like it... for about 10 to 15 minutes, the winds were just huge," he said.
"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."
Writer and broadcaster Tracee Hutchison was lining up to board the Tasmania-bound ship by foot when the storm moved through the area.
"We were watching [the storm] roll in and then we heard this incredible bang," Ms Hutchison said.
"The actual docking bridge has been very badly damaged and can't be used."
Ms Hutchison said about half the passengers who were bringing their cars to Tasmania had already boarded, while hundreds remained stranded in the departure terminal.
Water Police and other emergency services are at the scene and tugboats tried to move the ship back to its original position.
Perry Tremewen, another passenger due to take the 7.30pm journey across Bass Strait, heard the loud crash all the way from Beaconsfield Parade and said the ship was at a right-angle to the pier when he arrived.
He said the incident risked disrupting his holiday plans of a week-long motorcycle tour across Tasmania.
"If we don't get to board and go tonight, it will definitely affect us," he said. "And if we can't leave for a few days, then we'll need to start looking at flights."
Port Melbourne resident Hamish Tudhope had a good view of the Spirit of Tasmania II from his balcony that overlooks the water. He said he was looking out as the ship broke its moorings during the heavy winds.
"I was looking out at it, and one second the ship was there and the next second it was gone," he said.
"I ran down to the beach, the ramp had broken apart ... soon, fire trucks came racing down Bay Street, the police boat arrived, then the tug boats came. It has caused a pretty big scene."
Spirit of tasmania broken mooring lines and crashed in pier. Yes it is at right angles to where it should be pic.twitter.com/9j8RAfSn5i— Geoff O'Callaghan (@mrpointy) January 13, 2016