The 132 meter long ro-roferryHerald of Free Enterprise departed from Zeebrugge bound for Dover on March 6, 1987. The ferry loaded with 459 passengers, 80 crew and 131 vehicles suddenly capsized and sank under five minutes later. The ferry had lost stability and rolled over to port in shallow water. The water had rushed in as the watertight door in the bow was open allowing water to rush down the length of the vessel. The water quickly flooded the vessel disabling the electrical systems. Passengers and crew trapped inside were thrown into darkness in frigid water.
A nearby dredger saw the lights of the ferry disappeared and contacted the authorities. The Belgian Navy was nearby and soon rescue helicopters were on the scene. While many were rescued, many perished due to hypothermia before they could be rescued. When search and rescue efforts ended, there were 193 people who perished on board the vessel.
The Herald of Free Enterprise was salvaged in April 1987 and taken to Flushing. The vessel was sold for scrap and towed to Taiwan in 1988.
The cause of the sinking was investigated and revealed several causes that lead to the sinking.
The Master of the vessel was unable to see if the bow doors were closed from the bridge (due to the ship’s design) and there was no indicator light
The assistant boatswain who is responsible for closing the door was asleep at his bunk at the time of the accident
The first mate had left the deck early to go to the bridge assuming the assistant boatswain would close the doors
The last crewman who saw the doors open did not close the door before the vessel left
The vessel’s speed in shallow water increased the flooding into the vessel
The vessel’s ballast tanks in the bow resulted in an irregular trim