Portcities Southampton
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Accidents and the lessons learned

Bow doors open: Herald of Free Enterprise 1987

Many of her 500 plus passengers were in the restaurant or buying duty-free goods when the Herald of Free Enterprise suddenly began to list [definition] to port [definition] as she left Zeebrugge, Belgium, on the evening of 6th March 1987.

Within 90 seconds, the British car ferry had settled on her side on the bottom of the sea. Despite rescue craft being on the scene in as little as 15 minutes, a total of 193 passengers and crew were lost - the worst British peacetime accident since the Titanic. The bow doors through which cars and lorries were loaded had not been closed before she left her berth. As a result water began entering the car deck and very quickly affected her stability, even though the sea was calm.

Procedures for securing ships for sea travel were tightened up after the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster and ferries no longer leave their berth with the bow doors still open. The accident also caused naval architects to look at the `free water effect`. This occurs when even a few centimetres of water enter a hold or deck and, moving when the vessel rolls [definition] or turns, destroys its stability. The answer is to reduce the total area of decks by using bulkheads [definition]. This has proved difficult in existing roll-on roll-off [definition] vessels, which are constructed with large, unrestricted car decks for maximum capacity and to allow them to load and unload quickly.