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Seaman Responsible For Closing Ferry Doors Was Dozing In Bed, Inquiry Told With

April 27, 1987

Seaman Responsible For Closing Ferry Doors Was Dozing In Bed, Inquiry Told With PM-Belgium-Ferry

LONDON (AP) _ The seaman responsible for shutting the bow doors of a British ferry that capsized, killing nearly 200 people, thought he was off duty and had dozed off in his cabin when the wreck occurred, a state official testified today.

David Steel, the commissioner looking into the March 6 capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise, said the ferry’s captain, David Lewry, and the crew followed a ″sloppy system.″

″One of his (the captain’s) instructions leaves the impression that the master was required to assume all was well,″ said Steel, opening the British inquiry into the disaster before High Court Judge Sir Barry Sheen.

″These procedures were manifestly and inherently dangerous,″ Steel said.

He cautioned against blaming the disaster off the Belgian coast on Marc Stanley, 27, the seaman who was supposed to close the bow doors. Steel said that in practice Stanley did not always close the doors of the ferry.

On the night of March 6, Stanley had been doing maintenance work and when he finished he interpreted the words, ″That will do,″ from a senior officer as meaning he was off duty, Steel said.

″He went to his cabin and he eventually dozed off,″ said Steel.

Steel, representing Transport Secretary Nicholas Ridley, added that sailing with the bow doors open was not common practice on ferries but it did not break any law.

″The diseases of a sloppy system and sloppy procedures infected not just those on board ship but well into the body corporate of Townsend Car Ferries,″ said Steel.

The company is part of Townsend Thoresen, which owns the ferry. Townsend Thoresen is the biggest ferry operator across the English Channel, carrying 10 million passengers and 1.5 million vehicles a year on its fleet of roll-on roll-off vessels.

Townsend Thoresen was bought by Britain’s P and O group, a London-based conglomerate, shortly before the disaster.

The inquiry, expected to last six weeks, opened as salvage crews refloated the Herald of Free Enterpise and towed it back to Zeebrugge, the harbor where it capsized soon after sailing on a routine voyage to Dover on the south coast of England.

Officials said divers found two more bodies inside, bringing the confirmed death toll to 180.

Lawyers representing Captain Lewry, seaman Stanley, survivors and relatives of victims sat around circular tables today in an auditorium owned by the Church of England.

Lewry and Stanley were among 42 of the 80-member crew who survived. About 300 passengers also survived.

The rest of those on board perished when tons of water gushed through the bow doors soon after the Herald of Free Enterprise sailed in good weather on a calm sea. The ferry toppled on its side and settled on the seabed, partly submerged.

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