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The Herald of Free Enterprise Disaster

At 6:30pm on Friday 6 March 1987, the cross-Channel roll on  roll off ferry ‘Herald of Free Enterprise’, operated by Townsend  Thoresen, left Zeebrugge in Belgium with 533 passengers and  crew abroad. Some five minute later she had capsized in  shallow water outside the harbour and lay half-submerged on  her port side in complete darkness and extremely cold water. 193 people perished in the United Kingdom's worst peace-time  marine tragedy since the sinking of the ‘Titanic’ in 1912. Some  340 people were saved, in large part due to the actions of the  crew and the heroic and efficient operation of the Belgian  rescue and hospital services. The ship had capsized so quickly the crew were unable to send  out an SOS. Given that the design and buoyancy of most  modern ships is such that, in the event of an imminent capsize  or other emergency, there should be sufficient time to deploy  lifesaving equipment and fully evacuate, the accident had  serious implications.  
Salvage vessels surround the wreck. Memorial window in the church of St Mary-the-Virgin in Dover. Memorial window in the church of St Margaret of Antioch at St Margaret's-at-Cliffe.
According to the official enquiry, promptly ordered by the Government,  the fundamental error was that the ship put to sea with its outer and  inner bow doors fully open. As speed built up, a flood of water entered  the vehicle deck and caused the rapid sinking. Blame for the accident  was attributed to four crew members and the Townsend Thoresen  management.   The disaster shook the whole community of Dover and the surrounding  area. There was hardly a family which did not have a family member or  know someone on board the ship, or had family and friends involved in  the cross-Channel trade. There is are memorial windows to the disaster  in the churches of St Mary-the-Virgin in Dover and St Margaret of Antioch at St Margaret's-at-Cliffe, near Dover.
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