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Victims of Townsend Thoresen Herald of Free Enterprise disaster honoured at memorial service in St Mary the Virgin Church, Dover

Tributes to those who perished in Britain's most monumental peacetime maritime disaster were made today.

A service, held at St Mary the Virgin Church, Dover at 3pm marked the lives of those who died when the Townsend Thoresen Herald of Free Enterprise capsized.

Today is the 32nd anniversary of the tragedy which happened minutes after the vessel left the Belgian port of Zeebrugge at 6pm on March 6, 1987, killing 193 passengers and crew.

The capsized Herald of Free Enterprise. Dover still bears its scars.
The capsized Herald of Free Enterprise. Dover still bears its scars.

The bow doors of the Roll-on-roll-off eight-deck car and passenger ferry had not been closed and water immediately flooded the car deck.

The ship, laden with 543 mainly British passengers and 145 vehicles weighed about 1,100 tonnes. It was was busier than usual where about 100 passengers had taken advantage of the Sun newspaper's £1 crossing offer.

The Herald of Free Enterprise at sea
The Herald of Free Enterprise at sea

As the sea claimed the car decks, the Herald was quickly destabilised. It swayed violently until it crashed onto its port side on the sandbank in shallow water.

Amid chaos and terror in the pitch black, the international rescue flotilla to save crew and passengers worked through the night, followed by days of diving searches, even when hope for survivors dwindled.

The scene at the memorial service for the 30th anniversary of the Herald of Free Enterprise tragedy at St Mary's Church, Dover in 2017
The scene at the memorial service for the 30th anniversary of the Herald of Free Enterprise tragedy at St Mary's Church, Dover in 2017

Those who could not be saved were remembered during the service by The Sailors' Society at the Cannon Street church.

Sandra Welch, deputy CEO of The Sailors' Society
Sandra Welch, deputy CEO of The Sailors' Society

Sandra Welch, Sailors’ Society’s deputy CEO, who led the service, said: “The tragedy may have happened 32 years ago but it has remained in the hearts of our chaplains who comforted and supported the families and survivors affected.

“The service gives us the chance to join with families in remembrance of the loved ones they lost that night, and the many heroic acts carried out by crew and passengers.”

The seafarers' union the RMT this morning paid its own tribute on Twitter.

And in a press statement, its general secretary Mick Cash said: "In paying tribute to the memory of the 193 seafarers and passengers who died 32 years ago, we also remember the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster as a terrible example of compromised maritime safety standards.

“RMT continue to work to impress upon government and ship-owners the need to improve maritime safety standards for seafarers and passengers for the long term."

Lest we forget those who died in the sea that night. This was the scene at the 30th anniversary wreath laying for the Herald of Free Enterprise victims at Dover's Prince of Wales Pier in 2017
Lest we forget those who died in the sea that night. This was the scene at the 30th anniversary wreath laying for the Herald of Free Enterprise victims at Dover's Prince of Wales Pier in 2017

The immediate cause of the sinking was found to be negligence by the assistant boatswain, who was asleep in his cabin when he should have been closing the bow-door.

However, the official inquiry placed more blame on his supervisors and a general culture of poor communication in Townsend Thoresen.

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