Thirty Years On

I remember what I was doing on March 6th, 1987. My brother hadn’t long moved out of home, I hadn’t long got back from Basic Training with the Territorial Army and the crippling snows had nearly all gone.

My brother and I went to a bar that had a lock-in and when we walked in, there was silence from everyone, with just the noise of the newsreader on the radio. I thought he was telling a story from the descriptions he was giving. I said to my brother something along the lines of it being quite a vivid description and wouldn’t mind it being a film so we could watch it. That’s when one of the other patrons said it wasn’t a story. It was real, and then the full horror of it started to sink in.

A ferry had left the Belgian port of Zeebrugge bound for Dover, It was the Herald of Free Enterprise. A red and white Townsend Thoreson ship, one that was referred to as a RoRo – Roll On – Roll Off.

As it left the port, the doors were not closed properly and a wave entered the bottom level of the ship and caused it to list and it was in trouble.

Just ninety seconds later – One and a half minutes. Less time than it takes to boil an egg. Less time than it takes most people to use the toilet. Less time than a commercial break on the TV. 193 people were dead.


Image courtesy of Google Images


Image courtesy of Getty Images

27 thoughts on “Thirty Years On

  1. Wow! I do not remember hearing about this tragedy. I didn’t read the paper and there wasn’t a computer or Internet back then. I was pregnant with my daughter and my life was a mess so that might have been why I wasn’t aware. I am so sorry this happened….

  2. It’s a sobering thought, that tragedy could strike so quickly on transport that is used everyday. It is always deeply sad to hear of such things and a nod to making the most of life however we can because the randomness of death is always waiting in the wings.

    • Death can come so suddenly when we least expect it. I could have left it at 90 seconds, but I wanted to put it into perspective of the time frame

  3. What a horrific tragedy! I don’t remember hearing about that. Of course, I’ve never lived anywhere outside the U.S.

    Apparently they tried to place the blame solely on a crewman who was sleeping, instead of watching those doors. More importantly, just over half the people on board managed to survive. But reports state it was the worst peacetime nautical disaster involving a British vessel since the 1919 sinking of the Iolaire. Is this true? Regardless, it’s still awful.

    • That’s pretty much spot on. They changed the laws afterwards that the ship is not allowed to leave port with the doors open, and they changed them from RoRo to same door entrance and exit.

      One thing that made me realise that “when your time is up, there is nothing you can do about it”. One particular person who survived the disaster was run down and killed in Dover the next day. A bit like in Final Destination.

  4. I don’t remember this news item but it certainly makes it apparent that despite the technlogy and process available for safety, it’s human error that leads to tragedy.

    • Yep. Too much of a hurry and “leaving the door open should be fine”. So many laws changed as a result of that. What was weird though, was when they moved the Herald, to take it to the graveyard of ships, it capsized again.

  5. My brother was booked to travel on that ferry. The first we knew was when his wife phoned and told us the news. Thankfully his meeting had finished much earlier than expected so he had driven to Calais and returned via Dover. He knew nothing about anything until he walked in and found his wife in tears. Such relief all round.

    • It was. I had a post ready to go a couple of years ago but it became so outdated I had to give it up and did this one from scratch.

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