THE captain at the helm of a Red Funnel car ferry that crashed in thick fog thought the vessel was facing in the opposite direction.

Following the incident on October 21, when the Red Falcon crashed into moored yachts and ran aground as it entered Cowes Harbour, a copy of Red Funnel's investigation report has been leaked to the Isle of Wight County Press.

It reveals the captain, who was suspended but has now returned to duty as a chief officer, became 'overwhelmed by the situation' and disorientated in the 'white out' fog conditions.

He turned the ferry to counter a cross tide in the River Medina, but by too much — fully turning the vessel within the river.

Mistakenly reading the navigational equipment on the bridge, he thought the ship's head was pointing out of the channel. In fact, it was pointing towards Cowes.

According to the report: "At this point the challenge had been rectified and no contact with any object had been made.

"However, no time was taken to reassess the situation once the vessel had been placed safely back in the fairway.

"While (the captain) can be seen utilising the navigational aids, because his mental model was different he appears to dismiss evidence in front of him.

"The resultant action is to thrust in the wrong direction.

"This does not appear to have been questioned by the chief officer."

The report reveals the captain had taken charge of the ferry as the helmsman was struggling to keep it on course.

It was initially thought the helmsman was struggling due to the cross tide, but it later became apparent he could not keep up with the number of steering orders he was receiving.

When the captain took charge of the helm, the report found he lost the ability to appraise the overall situation.

Captain Jonathan Stage, who carried out the investigation, recommended Red Funnel consider introducing 'abort options' for different stages of passage.

He observed: "There was a key moment where the master had control of the vessel in a safe position.

"At this point, the opportunity was available to stop, take stock and fully assess the situation.

"It appears there was a drive to 'keep carrying on.'"

He said it was general practice to steer by sight in clear visibility, whereas steering by compass in reduced visibility, in a high pressure situation, was 'unusual.'

Isle of Wight County Press:

The Red Falcon run aground off East Cowes. Picture by Jennifer Burton.

Although there was no indication the crew were not fit to operate in fog, and 'blind pilotage' training was carried out monthly, the report recommended all Red Funnel crew undertake further training for fog conditions.

Captain Stage said in his report: "There is no doubt the master and mates are capable of manoeuvring the vessel during most normal circumstances, however there is little training carried out for when things go wrong."

It was also recommended the bridge equipment was redesigned, making it easier to interpret.

The internal report has been issued to Red Funnel staff, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), the Marine Accident Investigation Branch and Cowes Harbour Commission.

Red Funnel chief executive Fran Collins said: "This document serves to advise our team of the immediate steps being taken by the company to investigate the situation in full.

"This process is a key part of how we work with our internal teams and partners in an open and transparent way.

"The internal document outlines procedural and safety recommendations, some of which we have already put into action.

"The safety of our passengers and crew is always our primary concern.

"We recognise that our customers need to understand what happened on 21 October and what Red Funnel is doing about it.

"Our internal report, when combined with the pending findings of the MCA, will put us in a position to issue more information."

UPDATE Wednesday 12.50pm: Red Funnel said no further disciplinary action would be taken against the captain, regardless of the outcome of the MCA investigation.