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Health and safety

Nautilus attends Herald of Free Enterprise 35th anniversary remembrance service

7 March 2022

Nautilus was represented at a special remembrance service marking the 35th anniversary of the Herald of Free Enterprise tragedy on 6 March.

The anniversary of the MS Herald of Free Enterprise disaster is marked each year in Dover with a service of remembrance for those who perished when the roll-on roll-off ferry capsized shortly after leaving the Belgian port of Zeebrugge for Dover on the night of 6 March 1987, killing 193 passengers and crew.

The Union is always represented at the annual service, which is organised by the international maritime welfare charity Sailors' Society. This year head of industrial Micky Smyth was in attendance at the first face-to-face event since 2020 due to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.

Sailors' Society has continued the tradition of its then-Dover chaplain Bill McCrea, who supported families after the disaster; conducted funerals for four of the crew members; and led the first anniversary memorial service at the request of the families. Every year since, the charity has organised the memorial service and the prayers that follow at the seafront close to the port, where the first families gathered at the time for news.

The 35th Anniversary Service of Remembrance took place at 2pm on Sunday 6 March at St Mary-the-Virgin-Church, Cannon Street, Dover, CT16 1BY. At 4pm there was a short Act of Remembrance on the seafront.

The importance of the occasion to local people and the wider maritime community means that the alternative online arrangements made during the pandemic in 2021 were also be in place for 2022, with the service once again being broadcast live.

The names of all 193 passengers and crew lost in the tragedy were read out during the service, and families of those who died on the ferry when it capsized also attended.

Mr Smyth said that while improvements have since been made to the design of ro-ro vessels and onboard safety procedures to prevent a similar catastrophe, Nautilus would continue to remember the tragedy and all those who suffered, because it would 'never lose sight of the failings' that led to the tragic event.

'The 35th memorial service of the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster was solemn as always and this year, we were joined by The Rt Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, The Bishop of Dover who provided the congregation with a moving address,' he said.

Dover Port chaplaincy team leader David Slater read the prayers and stated that 'we will always remember those who were lost that night of 6th March 1987, which remains vividly in our minds particularly for those who lost family and friends. We also remember the many acts of individual heroism of both crew and passengers who gave their lives so others might live. '

Mr Smyth said: 'On a personal note, I had just joined Townsend Thoresen Ferries in January 1987 and I will never forget that Friday evening and the tragedy it brought to all those families; we will always remember this disaster, which should never have happened.

'Whilst safety procedures regarding ferry operations were put in place immediately following the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster, Nautilus International will continue to highlight any safety concerns such as fatigue, working long hours and tours of duty in our industry, particularly in the ferry sector and we will never forget this tragedy.'

A 1984 photo of the Herald of Free Enterprise before the tragedy (L) Credit: Wikimedia; and a stained glass window at St Mary's Church in Dover which pays tribute to those who died during the disaster Credit: Sailors' Society.

Sailors' Society said many of those onboard had taken advantage of a newspaper promotion offering cheap trips to the continent. All but seven of those who died when the ferry capsized in just 90 seconds were British.

'I still feel the loss of my aunt and uncle as powerfully as I did in 1987,' said Kim Spooner, who was eight at the time and will be reading at the service this year.

'It's hard to believe it is 35 years since that terrible night when so many lives were lost and changed forever.'

Sailors' Society's CEO Sara Baade said: 'We are only too aware how important this time can be for the families, but we are equally aware that for some the journey to Dover may no longer be possible, so we will be broadcasting the service live for anyone who cannot attend in person.

'For 35 years this tragedy has remained in the hearts of everyone affected, including our chaplains who comforted and supported the families and survivors. This memorial service gives us the chance to join with families in remembrance not only of the loved ones lost, but the many heroic acts of crew and passengers that night.'

From 2023 the annual Act of Remembrance will take place in its entirety on the seafront. It is also hoped that the 40th anniversary in March 2027 will be marked with another memorial church service.


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