Herald of Free Enterprise – Capsized and sank on 6 March 1987 due to taking on water just minutes after leaving the harbour at Zeebrugge in Belgium.
MS Herald of Free Enterprise was a roll-on roll-off (RORO) ferry which capsized moments after leaving the Belgian port of Zeebrugge on the night of 6 March 1987, killing 193 passengers and crew, of the 539 people aboard.
The modern 8-deck car and passenger ferry, owned by P&O, had been designed for rapid loading and unloading on the competitive cross-channel route, and there were no watertight compartments. When the ship left harbour with her bow-door open, the sea immediately flooded the decks, and within minutes she was lying on her side in shallow water.
The immediate cause of the sinking was found to be negligence by the assistant boatswain, asleep in his cabin when he should have been closing the bow-door. But the official inquiry placed more blame on his supervisors and a general culture of poor communication in the ferry company P&O European Ferries.
Although the vessel was salvaged and put up for sale, there were no takers, and she ended her days in a scrapyard in Taiwan.
Since the disaster, improvements have been made to the design of RORO vessels, with watertight ramps, indicators showing the position of the bow-doors, and the banning of undivided decks.
This incident caused the highest death-count of any peacetime maritime disaster involving a British ship since the sinking of the RMS Empress of Ireland in 1914.