On 6 March 1987 the ferry Herald of Free Enterprise capsized less than half an hour after leaving Zeebrugge for Dover in what became one of Britain’s worst maritime disasters.

The ferry had set off with her bow doors left open. Within minutes the ship was in trouble and in just 90 seconds she had capsized; 193 people died as families and groups of friends drowned in freezing waters. Heroics efforts by crew and other passengers led to the majority of those on board surviving.

The 7,950gt German-built Herald of Free Enterpris was nearing the end of a winter stint on the Belgian service and had left Zeebrgge for Dover at 1900 local time.

She had just cleared the harbour’s new outer breakwater 45 minutes later when an inrush of water through the bow doors caused the ship to roll onto her port side and sink.

The remarkable resuce operation that followed included helicopters and a whole fleet of ships, with 408 passengers and crew being plucked to safety.

A series of memorial services are being held, with the main one at St Mary The Virgin Church in Dover attended by relatives, to remember those who died in what was the worst peacetime British maritime disaster in living memory.

RMT General Secretary, Mick Cash said: “We remember those crew and passengers who died and offer our hear felt condolences to the families and loved ones affected by this terrible tragedy. We also continue to extend our sympathy and support to the survivors of this disaster. In doing so, we re-state the RMT’s commitment to working with government and industry to maintain high and consistent maritime safety standards for seafarers and passengers.”


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