In 1987, I was General Manager of Sealink Scotland's Stranraer-Larne service.
I remember being absolutely shocked by the dreadful loss of the Herald of Free Enterprise on 6th March 1987 when she capsized just minutes after leaving her berth at the Belgian port of Zeebrugge – 193 lives were lost.
The public enquiry which followed confirmed that the Ro/Ro ferry had left the berth with the bow doors open. Many lessons were learnt by the ferry industry and new systems, equipment and procedures were introduced to tighten safety. The loss of the Herald of Free Enterprise so close to the berth was one of the worst British peacetime maritime incidents.
A service of commemoration was held on 6th March 2017 at Dover's St Mary Church – this was attended by families and friends of those touched by this disaster and also by officials of Nautilus International. Speaking after the service, Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said that despite the tougher safety regulations introduced following the disaster, there is still much more work to be done to protect those working on the world's waters.
“It sadly took something of the scale of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster to ensure international ferry safety regulations were reviewed,’ explained Mr Dickinson. ‘Now, 30 years on, we are rightly remembering those lost during this tragedy. Yet we still need to look at the lessons from this incident as many factors – including fatigue and the criminalisation of seafarers – remain issues to this day."