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Stranded ferry on Lake Erie sandbar pulled free, safely docked

The narrow peninsula at Fish Point on Pelee Island, Ont., extends for over a kilometre into Lake Erie, pictured Aug. 21, 2009.

Mike Fuhrmann/The Canadian Press

A ferry that was stuck in the sand off the shore of Lake Erie in southwestern Ontario with nearly three dozen passengers and crew aboard has been freed and docked safely.

Susan Schremp, president of the Owen Sound Transportation Co. says the M.V. Jimaan was pulled loose from the sandbar by a tugboat early Friday afternoon and made it to harbour in Leamington, Ont. under its own power around 2:30 p.m.

Schremp says Transportation Safety Board officials are inspecting the vessel, while divers are going over its hull to check for damage.

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She says that inspection and a review by Transport Canada will determine if or when the ferry is put back in service.

Thirty-three passengers and crew — including an infant — were on board the Pelee Island ferry when it ran aground in shallow water about 200 metres from shore in high winds on Thursday afternoon.

The Canadian Coast Guard was immediately alerted, but determined that strong winds and large waves made it unsafe to attempt to remove the passengers at the time.

The ferry is heated, and food and water were provided to those on board throughout the night — some of whom cracked jokes about the experience on Twitter.

Schremp said the rescue operation went smoothly and began as soon as the vehicle got stuck Thursday.

"Nothing went sideways with this, everything went as hoped and as planned. Everyone worked very well together."

"This is the way you want to see it happen," she said of the rescue.

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A TSB senior marine investigator said the on-site investigation could be finished by Saturday and will include statements from those on the ferry.

Wendy Jolliffe said a decision on whether a full investigation will be held could come by next week.

The two-hour trip between Pelee Island and the dock in Leamington, south of Windsor, Ont. is usually made two to three times a day.

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