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Families to mark Zeebrugge ferry disaster 30 years on

By Tom Pugh

People touched by the Zeebrugge ferry disaster will gather at a church service today to mark the 30th anniversary of the tragedy that claimed 193 lives.

At about 6pm on March 6, 1987, the Townsend Thoresen roll-on, roll-off ferry the Herald of Free Enterprise turned over on its side outside Zeebrugge, Belgium, as it set out for Dover, Kent.

Heroics by crew and passengers led to the majority of those on board surviving, but more than 150 passengers and nearly 40 crew on the British-flagged vessel perished.

At St Mary The Virgin Church in Dover, relatives will attend a service to remember those who died in what was the worst peacetime British maritime disaster in living memory.

Among those attending will be Kim Spooner, whose aunt and uncle Neil 'Billy' Spooner (37) and Mary Smith (44) died after taking advantage of a cut-price Continental day-trip offer in a newspaper.

Ms Spooner (38) from Essex said: "I was eight years old at the time and I can remember it like it was yesterday. I knew that it was something absolutely terrible.

"The worst bit was waiting for news because we were obviously in a time when there were no mobile phones and no internet.

"For them, it was a spur of the moment trip. It wasn't a planned thing. They lived in Essex, so lived quite close to the coast. It was fate. They could have gone the day before or the day after.

"Their deaths have completely affected my life and how I form relationships. They were like a second mum and dad to me and we were a really close-knit unit."

A public inquiry confirmed the ferry had left Zeebrugge with its bow doors open, allowing water to flood the car deck, and the crew member responsible for closing them was asleep at the time.

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