THE Sandbanks Ferry will be out of action until at least the New Year because of a 'severe' technical problem.

Firefighters were called to the ferry on Friday afternoon, just two days after the vessel had recommenced regular crossings following seven weeks of maintenance work.

They attended the Sandbanks side of the harbour entrance after the ferry's fire alarms sounded, prompting an emergency evacuation.

The problem was later identified as a hydraulic leak, which generated steam and triggered the alarms.

Issuing a statement on Christmas Eve, The Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road and Ferry Company, which owns and operates the service, explained: "The ferry service is currently suspended until further notice due to technical issues.

"Due to the severity of the problem, and the amount of work involved in checking these critical systems the ferry will not be back in service before the New Year, at which time we hope to be able to update further."

This latest development comes just weeks after Transport Secretary Chris Grayling ruled against a proposed fare hike, which ferry owners wanted to implement to cover the costs of a new £10.7m vessel.

These proposed price increases, which included doubling the cost of a pedestrian/bicycle crossing from £1 to £2 and increasing the fare for cars from £4.50 to £6, became the subject of a two-day public inquiry held in September.

However, more than 70 objections were lodged against the plans.

Until this latest technical issue is rectified, Morebus will continue to use the diversion route and timetable it had implemented during the ferry's scheduled refit.

The main 50 service will divert from Westbourne to Swanage via Poole and Wareham (the land route) and then continue onto Studland where it will terminate, and the reverse will happen in the opposite direction.

A shorter shuttle service will run between Bournemouth and Sandbanks with the first and last service of the day to and from Swanage also serving Sandbanks.

There will be no service between Bournemouth Interchange and Bournemouth Square in both directions, or between Shell Bay Ferry Offices and Studland Beach Cafe.

As soon as the ferry is operational the bus service will revert back to its normal timetable.