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Zeebrugge ferry disaster: 'Incredibly moving' 30th anniversary service in Dover

By Eleanor Perkins

There's no such thing as closure for the families of Herald victims and nor should there be, said Bishop James Jones as he addressed the congregation at a 30th anniversary service.

Today marks three decades since the Herald of Free Enterprise capsized as she left Zeebrugge Harbour in Belgium.

Hundreds of people packed into St Mary’s Church in Dover to pay their respects to the 193 who died in the disaster.

The Herald of Free Enterprise capsized just outside of the Zeebrugge harbour walls

The Herald of Free Enterprise capsized just outside of the Zeebrugge harbour walls

Bishop James, a former pupil at the Duke of York’s Royal Military School in Dover, delivered an address. He is no stranger to major disasters having led the inquiry into the Hillsborough tragedy in which 96 football fans died in 1989.

He said: “There’s no such thing as closure, nor should there ever be, for love. The re-living and the remembrance, the quest and the questioning keep alive the love for the one who has died and give expression to their worth.

“Today, in this service you are keeping your love alive. Prayers, spoken and silent, petals soon to be strewn on the water, all done in the name of love and for the love a name that will be written on you heart for all eternity.”

Peter McNeill, son of Lynda Burt who died in the disaster, read The Pilot Psalm. Sandra Welch, deputy chief executive the event’s organisers the Sailors’ Society, gave an act of remembrance.

A two minutes’ silence followed with the names of each person who lost their life read aloud.

Rt Rvd Bishop James Jones during his address

Rt Rvd Bishop James Jones during his address

There were hymns such as Eternal Father, Strong to Save plus Abide with Me, and prayers thanking all the doctors, nurses and emergency services who assisted on the day.

Jodie Vallance, 29, from River, was attending the annual service for the first time. Her father, John Millgate, a long distance truck driver was among the victims. She was born four days later.

She told KentOnline: “I thought it was a beautiful service. It felt like a community in the church. You suffer with your own grief and everybody’s got their own story to tell but they brought it all together in the service.

“They did Dover proud.”

During a rendition of Amazing Grace led by Steve Erickson, Daniel Lamote who was the safety officer at Zebrugge for P&O Ferries presented the bell of the Herald of Free Enterprise to the church.

He said: “The bell was given by the management to the operations manager. Now with the 30th remembrance, I asked the widow of the operations manager if she was prepared to give the bell.

Daniel Lamote (right) who was the safety officer at Zebrugge for PO Ferries presented the bell of the Herald of Free Enterprise to the church.

Daniel Lamote (right) who was the safety officer at Zebrugge for P&O Ferries presented the bell of the Herald of Free Enterprise to the church.

“I explained that it would be the best place for the bell to be. It’s not something you can keep private and she agreed immediately to it.”

The bell, which was rescued from the sunken ferry, will hang next to the Herald memorial window.

Dover MP Charlie Elphicke said: “It was an incredibly moving service. We will never forget the effect this terrible disaster had on our community. 193 people lost their lives and it is fitting to remember this once again this year.”

The Mayor of Dover, Cllr Neil Rix, who also attended the service in Zeebrugge on Sunday, said: “It’s a very sad day for Dover and there’s a lot to remember.

"I hope it carries on and we never forget because we shouldn’t.”

For the full report pick up this week’s Mercury, out on Wednesday.

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