Heavy snow and storms caused chaos on Britain's seas and roads Friday, prompting a rescue operation to airlift a seriously injured ship's captain from his vessel, officials said.

The skipper of the Horn Cliff, a cargo ship carrying fruit from the Caribbean, sustained spinal injuries and internal bleeding as the vessel hit a force 10 storm 180 miles (290 kilometres) south of Ireland.

The Royal Air Force launched an effort to airlift him and six others from the ship, two of whom were also thought to be injured less seriously, but it said later it had to be called off because conditions were too dangerous.

The vessel is carrying a total of 31 passengers and crew and reportedly lost up to 90 of its containers.

It is now sailing to Cork, Ireland, and the injured will be transferred to hospital when it arrives Saturday, the RAF said.

Elsewhere, 14 Spanish seamen were rescued when their trawler, which was registered in Britain, ran into a force nine gale off the remote Western Isles, northern Scotland, coastguards there said.

And overnight, 23 people were winched off a ferry, the Riverdance, which hit difficulties in bad weather in the Irish Sea, running aground off the coast of Blackpool, north-west England.

On Thursday evening, the ship had been listing at 60 degrees, and there were concerns that it would overturn. The vessel, reportedly carrying 150 tonnes of oil, is now being monitored by officials in case of spills.

At least 150 motorists had to be rescued Friday after becoming stuck in heavy snow in County Durham, northern England, local police said.

And 8,000 homes in northern England had their electricity supplies cut off Friday night as snow and high winds disrupted the supply. Of these, 6,000 are still without power, supplier CE Electric said.

Blizzards have swept across large swathes of northern England and Scotland, with depths of snow of up to 15 centimetres recorded.

Weather forecasters the Met Office have issued severe weather warnings for all of Britain apart from the south-east of England.