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Design of Roll On, Roll Off Ferries Has Been Criticized With PM-Capsized Ferry Bjt

March 7, 1987

LONDON (AP) _ The Herald of Free Enterprise, which capsized with more than 500 people aboard, was a large vessel of a type that once caused safety concerns from an international committee.

The 7,951-ton ferry had room for a total of 1,300 passengers on three decks and 350 cars and trucks below. The vehicles rolled on and off through huge doors in the bows and stern.

The ferry company that owns the ship, Townsend Thoresen, said Friday night that the ship was built in Bremerhaven, West Germany, in 1980 to the highest standards of shipping technology.

But the International Maritime Consultative Committee, an intergovernmental body, in a 1980 report expressed concern about the design of roll-on roll-off ferries, as they are called.

Experts expressed fears that in an accident in which water got into the vehicle deck, the ferries could capsize so quickly that people on board would be unable to escape.

A British salvage expert, William Cooper, said in an interview with Independent Television News on Friday night that survivors would have difficulty trying to abandon such a ship in an accident.

″If the boat starts to heel, one of the great problems is the extraordinary weight of the open decks. ... Once it started to heel, people could not get down the high side of the hull,″ he said.

A former Townsend Thoresen navigation officer, Clive Langley, said in a television interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. that roll-on roll-off ferries are in some ways like barges. ″As any sailor knows, it only takes two or three inches out of line and you can turn a barge over. An ordinary ship is compartmentalized (with bulkheads) and you have more stability.″

The Herald of Free Enterprise had triple stern propellers, a bow-thruster propeller mounted sideways in the bow and a bow rudder to allow it to maneuver in tight spaces in crowded harbors.

Paul Ovington, a spokesman for the ferry company based at the English Channel port of Dover, said the cause of the accident remained a mystery.

″It went down within about a minute, which was extremely quick, due to the level of water which suddenly entered the ship. But the reason for that we just don’t know at the moment,″ he said.

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