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Crushed Vehicles Only Reminder Of Ferry Disaster With PM-Ferry Disaster

March 3, 1988

ZEEBRUGGE, Belgium (AP) _ A soggy patch of grass alongside Saint Donaas parish church will be turned into a rose garden in remembrance of the people who died when the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry capsized last year.

But apart for the cars and trucks that lie crushed and rusting, there are few visible reminders of the maritime tragedy that pushed this drab port city into the headlines on March 6, 1987.

″Can we keep running around with our hands in the air? Do we have to be in sackcloth and ashes because of the disaster?″ asked Wim Catry, the priest of Zeebrugge’s Saint Donaas parish.

The ferry, loaded with 543 people and tons of cars and trucks, capsized after leaving Zeebrugge with its bow doors left open. It was bound for the British port of Dover, across the English Channel.

″It was tragic, but you forget,″ said Andre Pape, 57, captain of the tug boat Sea Horse, which was the first to reach the capsized vessel minutes after it sank just ouside the harbor walls. ″We are faced with the force of the sea every day. When one thing happens, you forget another.″

After the ship went down, authorities quickly set up a rescue operation involving ships, divers and helicopters.

Many lives were saved because of the swiftness and efficiency that won Belgium international acclaim, but 193 people died.

Olivier Vanneste, the provincial governor who led the rescue operations, was one of 31 people, including 13 Belgians, decorated by Queen Elizabeth II for their conduct in the disaster.

″It has been a tribute to the country and all people who participated in the operation,″ Vanneste said. Officials from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Britain have since come here to study the rescue plan, he said.

He remembers best the selflessness of people bringing in blankets and clothing for the rescued Britons and never asking for reimbursement.

The steady flow of ferries in and out of the port continues unabated. ″The boats just keep coming,″ said Catry. ″They might be a little more careful now. But who can tell?″

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