Herald of Free Enterprise

Remembering the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster

Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the deaths of 193 passengers and crew, who were tragically killed when the MS Herald of Free Enterprise capisized immediately after leaving port on the night of 6 March, 1987.

The ship left harbour with its bow-door open, and the sea immediately flooded the decks of the ferry. Before long, the ship had capsized into shallow water.

The vessel, owned by Townsend and Thorsen, had been designed for fast loading and unloading on the cross-channel route, which saw high levels of traffic and was very competitive.

The main cause of the accident was later found to be negligence of the ships’ boatswain, who was asleep in his cabin when he should have been closing the bow-door. When an official enquiry took place, more blame was placed on his supervisors and generally poor communications in the Townsend Thoresen operation.

When the ship was later put up for sale, no buyers were found and it was scrapped.

The disaster paved the way for major improvements in roll-on roll-off (RORO) vessels, including watertight ramps, indicators showing the position of the bow-doors, and the banning of undivided decks.