THE Sandbanks Ferry has been involved in a bizarre accident while moored at Poole Harbour that will delay its return to service for at least until next month.

Ferry bosses decided to withdraw the service last month after a "dramatic reduction" in passenger numbers because of the lockdown travel restrictions.

While out of service it was decided to carry out all mandatory maintenance on the Bramble Bush Bay, meaning its regular service withdrawal in November, for its biennial refit and maintenance, would not be taking place.

However, in the early hours of last Friday while the chain ferry was moored in Poole Harbour, a piece of concrete apparently broke free from the fixed jetty and struck the ferry's hull.

Now ferry chiefs say this accident has caused a "small but significant amount of damage to the hull" and that the ferry will not be operational between Sandbanks and Studland until at least the beginning of June.

Sandbanks Ferry Company managing director Mike Kean said: "The damage sustained by the jetty malfunction is incredibly frustrating, when we were expecting to return to service as soon as traffic volumes were back at a sustainable level.

"We are doing all we can, working with our contractors and suppliers, to get this rectified as soon as possible.

"Social distancing guidelines must continue to be adhered to, so we once again ask our customers for their patience while we carry out these unforeseen repair works under difficult conditions.”

At least one of the main prow hinge fixings is cracked and will need to be repaired using a platform and scaffolding fixed to the deck of the ferry.

Mr Kean said: "We were very disappointed to have to withdraw the service during this public health crisis.

"However, we are pleased to be able to carry out the November refit and maintenance work ahead of schedule.

"This will mean less disruption for businesses and residents in the busy run up to Christmas this year, which I hope will be welcome news."

Last year the ferry was out of action for 15 weeks after suffering an unexpected fracture of one of its main drive shafts.