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Zeebrugge ferry disaster

MS Herald of Free Enterprize was a roll-on roll-off car and passenger ferry owned by Townsend Thoresen, thought to carry more than 600 people at a time. On the night of 6 March 1987, just after it left the Belgian port of Zeebrugge (and shortly after Blankety Blank had finished on TV), it capsized, killing a total of 193 passengers and crew. This was the stuff of newsflashes.

The ship had been on her way to the British port of Dover, and once more information began to filter through to the TV news rooms, we learnt that most of those who'd died in the disaster had done so as a result of hypothermia in the icy-cold waters.

Later, it emerged that the capsizing had happened because someone had left the loading doors open as the ship set off on its journey. As a consequence, water quickly flooded into the car deck, tilting the ship dramatically and with such speed - in fact, it took just 90 seconds for the disaster to take place. It meant the crew were caught by surprise and little could be done to avert disaster at that point in time.

A court case took place after, and it emerged a number of people were to blame for not closing the boat doors. In fact, the person whose duty this usually fell to was at that time asleep in his cabin. Seven of the crew were charged with gross negligence manslaughter and P&O Ferries (the operator) charged with corporate manslaughter… until the case fell apart.

Following the Zeebrugge disaster, a number of modifications to the design and procedures for roll-on, roll-off ferries were introduced to prevent a similar incident ever happening again.

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Do You Remember Zeebrugge ferry disaster?

Do You Remember Zeebrugge ferry disaster?

  • Anonymous user
    Yes, I remember it-it was horrific. There is is a stained glass window in a church in Dover that is dedicated as a memorial to her passengers and crew. Along with the Hungerford Massacre, this was one of two great disasters to befall the UK in '87 and led to the collapse of the Townsend Thoresen company. It was the worst British ferry catastrophe since the 'Darwin' went down off the South Coast in '66. Terrible disaster, I shall alwyas remember it. Postcards of the 'Herald' still turn up now and again in junk shops- the vessel ended up being scrapped in Taiwan in March '88 after being renamed the 'Flushing Range' for some reason. It should never have happened- I can only pray that all the deceased, plus the vessel herself, are at rest now. RIP.