Memorial service marks 30th anniversary of Zeebrugge ferry disaster

A church service has been held to mark the 30th anniversary of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster that claimed 193 lives.

The tragedy happened on 6 March 1987 when the roll-on, roll-off ferry The Herald Of Free Enterprise turned over on its side outside Zeebrugge, Belgium as it set off for Dover in Kent.

The majority of those on board survived thanks to the heroics of passengers and crew but 193 people including 40 crew perished.

Relatives attended a service at St Mary The Virgin Church in Dover to remember those who died in Britain's worst peacetime maritime disaster since the Second World War.

Those attending included Kim Spooner, whose aunt and uncle Neil "Billy" Spooner, 37, and Mary Smith, 44, died after taking advantage of a cut-price Continental day-trip offer in a newspaper.

Ms Spooner, 38, from Essex, said: "I was eight years old at the time and I can remember it like it was yesterday.

"I knew that it was something absolutely terrible.

"The worst bit was waiting for news because we were obviously in a time when there were no mobile phones and no internet.

"For them, it was a spur of the moment trip. It wasn't a planned thing.

"They lived in Essex so lived quite close to the coast. It was fate.

"They could have gone the day before or the day after.

"I get quite angry when I hear it described as a freak accident because it wasn't.

"There were people and corporations to blame. It's as simple as that."

A service was held at on Sunday at St Donaas Church in Zeebrugge, jointly-led by the Reverend Alexander Eberson, chaplain of the Port of Zeebrugge, who said: "The disaster had a huge impact on Zeebrugge and still does."

A public inquiry confirmed the ferry left Zeebrugge with its bow doors open which allowed water to flood the car deck, and the crew member responsible for closing them was asleep at the time.

A number of the heroes of the disaster received awards, including a George Medal for ex-policeman Andrew Parker.

Mr Parker became known as "the human bridge" after he saved his wife, his 12-year-old daughter and about 20 other passengers who walked over his body to safety.

The public inquiry report published later in 1987 severely criticised Townsend Thoresen, which later became P&O European Ferries.

An inquest in October 1987 returned verdicts of unlawful killing.

A manslaughter trial began at the Old Bailey in September 1990 involving eight defendants, including the ferry company and three former directors.

But the case collapsed a month later after the judge directed the jury to acquit them.