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Worried Relatives Await Word from Belgium; Thatcher Heads For Scene With PM-Capsized Ferry

March 7, 1987

Worried Relatives Await Word from Belgium; Thatcher Heads For Scene With PM-Capsized Ferry Bjt

DOVER, England (AP) _ Scores of anxious relatives converged on this south England port today to await word on the fate of more than 540 people aboard a ferry that capsized shortly after leaving Belgium on its way to Britain.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was traveling to the scene today, and Queen Elizabeth II dispatched her son, Prince Andrew, and his wife, Sarah, to the disaster site in Zeebrugge on the Belgian coast.

About 100 relatives of survivors boarded a ferry for Zeebrugge. Others huddled at the headquarters of the ferry company Townsend Thoresen awaiting word on their loved ones.

″I have been up all night worrying,″ said Judy Wickham, whose husband, John, was aboard the ferry that capsized Friday night shortly after leaving Zeebrugge on its way to the British port of Dover.

″I worry more about accidents on the roads, more than anything like this happening,″ she said.

In a London news conference today, Mrs. Thatcher said she was shocked by the ″tragedy of enormous proportions.″

″The question you are asking is the question I am asking: How could it have happened?″ she said. ″At the moment, it seems a mystery.″

Queen Elizabeth II sent a sympathy message to families of those killed, saying she was ″deeply shocked and saddened.″

Some relatives and friends said they drove to Dover minutes after hearing of the tragedy.

Becky Ede, 16, of Newdigate, was among those who received good news. She was told that her parents, John and Ann Ede, had survived.

″It is absolutely wonderful news,″ said Miss Ede. ″I was frantic with worry because I could not get through to any of the emergency numbers, so I had to come down here myself to find out what was happening.″

Television and radio newscasts repeatedly broadcast telephone numbers people could call for information.

As the vigil continued, emotions spilled over and minor scuffles broke out among the relatives and reporters in Dover. No one was reported hurt.

By contrast, at other parts of the busy port, teen-agers with backpacks laughed and chatted amiably as they boarded ferries for day trips to the continent.

″Well, obviously it did cross our minds,″ David Mundy, 29, said of the accident as he boarded a ferry for Calais, France, with his wife, Jenny, 23. ″But it just wouldn’t happen twice - it couldn’t, could it?″

″As far as we know, there has been no rash of cancellations,″ said Townsend Thorsen spokesman Paul Ovington, his eyes bleary and his voice shaking at times. ″As you can see, the port terminal is busy.″

Seventy-five to 100 people had gone on a day trip to Zeebrugge as part of a promotion in The Sun newspaper, offered jointly with Townsend Thoresen to get more people on the English Channel crossing during the winter low season.

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