…almost exactly 56 years ago…

The anxiety and frustration created by the Stena Voyager incident is a reminder of our vulnerability at sea, even on our local pond which can suddenly turn into a funnel of fury during a storm. These passengers were lucky there was no storm, unlike the passengers of the Princess Victoria, almost exactly 56 years ago. And whatever the improvements in design, ships doors will remain vulnerable, as the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster grimly reminds us.

  • Mervyn Rotontryl

    There is no valid comparison to either.

    A nonsense post if you ask me.

  • Absolutely. Ah, yes, I remember it well.

    That evening, I was paddling round Church Plain, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, in my child-size 5 wellies. My birth-place was being devastated by the East Coast Floods, of which we had absolutely no warning.

    The loss of the Princess Victoria was just one of that night’s tragedies. Canvey Island got it bad. The unfortunate Dutch far, far worse.

    Lest we forget.

    There’s a lot to be said about the Princess Victoria. She was a relatively new boat, just four or five years old. Even so, she had been deemed by the owners not to be sufficiently robust for the southern routes (I believe the original intention was for her to operate the Fishguard-Rosslare link). Now, I’ve crossed from both Larne and Fishguard in very strong gales: I’d not pick the difference in severity. Some of those crossings were in the old Princess Maud, one of the few boats ever to thrash around in a flat calm.

    That’s only the first oddity of the loss of the Princess Victoria. One might add the mistaken weather forecast, on which Captain Ferguson took the decision to sail, and whether he was under pressure to do so: among the lost that afternoon were the Unionist MP for North Down and Maynard Sinclair, Basil Brooke’s Deputy in Stormont.

    There were the radio messages that gave incorrect positions for the ship, thus ensuring the destroyer sent to her aid from Rothesay could not find her. One destroyer, the [ahem!] Tenacious, did not leave dock on the Foyle because the ship was all spruced up for the Captain’s rounds, and nobody felt this reasonably could be interrupted. The other Derry-based destroyer, the Contest, did not leave harbour until after dark because the crew were out pubbing. Only as an afterthought did the Admiralty change its arrangements, and have a ship off Magilligan ready at an hour’s notice.

    The Inquiry (and the inevitable Appeal) on the loss of the Princess Victoria were completely honest and decent. Judge Campbell had no qualms in unequivocally blaming the owners, the British Transport Commission (though the ship’s design was commissioned before nationalisation). The Inquiry recognised, too, the outstanding bravery of the men of the Donaghadee and Portpatrick lifeboats, and especially the heroism of radio-operator David Broadfoot, who was then awarded a posthumous GC.

  • Mervyn Rotontryl @ 10:47 AM:

    The similarity between the Princess Victoria and the Stena Voyager amounts to the fundamental flaw in all ro-ro ships. In both cases the rear doors were insufficiently secure: in the earlier case, the water came in; in the latter, the lorry got out.

    On the Herald of Free Enterprise, of course, the doors were not secured at all. In passing, what a hubristic monniker that was! How quickly the other two ships in the Spirit class were then re-named and repainted! How neat it was to get the logo off the funnel as the very first bit of salvage! Oh, and I do believe that one of the Spirit ships, unconverted, is still out there: she has been subsequently the Pride of Bruges, the Picardy, and I last saw her operating out of Ramsgate as the Oleander.

    On another note, there is a contrast between the aftermaths of the Princess Victoria and the Herald of Free Enterprise. In 1953 the Law took its unfettered course. Later, the Thatcher-Major Government protected its bank-rollers from charges of corporate manslaughter. One of the decencies of the Blair administration was to bring in the Public Interest Disclosure Act, to protect whistle-blowers who could have prevented the kind of cavalier incompetence shown by Townsend Thoreson in 1987.

  • to the fundamental flaw in ‘all’ ro-ro ships.

    what? they all have doors???

    the HSS had a lorry crash through its doors…. hardly the same at all.

  • “One of the decencies of the Blair administration was to bring in the Public Interest Disclosure Act, to protect whistle-blowers …”

    Malcolm, it seems that ‘decency’ wasn’t recognised in the recent Rathlin ferry saga 🙁

    3.4 In discussions with NIAO regarding the allegations and complaints made directly to them,we were advised that the term ‘whistleblower’ was being used in the generic sense and disclosures were not necessarily qualifying disclosures as described under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. We made it clear to NIAO that we would fully respect the position of those making disclosures and deal sensitively with any information provided.report by ‘independent’ investigators

    Only Complainant 1 and Complainant 2 are mentioned in the report yet at least one of the complaints is not linked to either.

    Not only was the whistleblower’s information and identity passed to his employer his identity was to all intents and purposes ‘leaked’ to the media:

    The man no longer works for the company.

    The new operator subsequently had his knuckles tickled/rapped for permitting the carriage of hazardous goods outside the terms of the shipping regulations.

    There were nine passengers on board, all local.

    I shouldn’t imagine that comment from the operator went down too well with local people.

  • a wile melee @ 12:02 PM;

    Yup: doors. They open and (hopefully) shut.

    As a peasant passenger, my trust in the security of ro-ro doors has a distant affinity to John Steinbeck’s short, short story of St Katy the Virgin.

    St Katy was the reformed sow capable of performing miracles. It was pointed out that a sow that had farrowed hardly qualified as a virgin. The defence was, in the matter of virginity, there was little physical difference between the violence of man/boar from without and of the goodness of God from within.

  • Nevin @ 12:24 PM:

    I’d like to get off that hook by paraphrasing L.P.Hartley: “Northern Ireland is a foreign country: they do things differently there”. Alas, I know that is untrue in political, geographical and legal-social terms. The Act was well intended: like the FoI Act, however, it comes down to interpretation and practice.

    A further apology: I see I previously confused “NALIL” and “Nevin”, presumably because both are so exemplary and worthy. Any way, put it down to my justifiable confusion over long, five-lettered words.

  • DC

    “Oh, and I do believe that one of the Spirit ships, unconverted, is still out there: she has been subsequently the Pride of Bruges, the Picardy, and I last saw her operating out of Ramsgate as the Oleander”

    It should have by now been fitted with new sponsons on the side to support stability in the event of damage or movement in load, and indeed intake of water re the good ole EU legislative demands no doubt. Modern ro-ro ships have become somewhat standardised now largely produced in ever diminishing shipyards with ship architecture creating less variety in design, which perhaps has its benefits in terms of safety. Before, when you look back over the years, there was a right lot of variable designs from all sorts of shipyards across the UK and beyond.

    But I can understand the first poster’s views, the HSS is a catamaran it is two-hulled and a significant distance from where the hold is kept to that of the actual see level itself.

    In addition, the picture of the Herald of Free Enterprise doesn’t half remind me of the DUP-SF governance set-up (or part collapse?)at Stormont.

  • No apology needed, Malcolm, I’m the public face of NALIL.

    Jim Fitzpatrick, Under Secretary of State at the Ministry for Transport (including ferries), has produced this delightful explanation for official forms with the same number that, er, have different wording:

    These copies may appear different but both use the MCA’s Passenger Certificate and Domestic Safety Management Certificate form MSF 1241 Rev 07/07

  • Harry Flashman

    Malcolm you seem to be inordinately well informed about the loss of the Princess Victoria, is it something you’ve studied or is there a book about the incident that covers it in detail? I’d love to read more if you have any suggestions.

  • Harry Flashman @ 01:53 PM:

    There’s a summary of the events on line at http://www.larneferryweb.com/features/2003/princess_victoria_50/princess_victoria_50th.htm/

    Jack Hunter was Head of English at Stranraer Academy and lecturer for Glasgow University’s outreach section. He did a study for the Stranraer local history group; but I believe that is out-of-print. Do not despair: there is a version of Hunter on line at http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/corpus/search/document.php?documentid=1372

    Stephen Cameron, a retired senior officer of the NI Fire Service, did a fiftieth anniversary account in Death in the North Channel: the loss of the “Princess Victoria”. I have not had sight of that text.

    I blogged this topic a year ago (there was a stranded ferry off Blackpool this time prompted me): I guess most of my info came from sources like those, from the Net.

    I know, at that time, I was very impressed by a touching family memoir of David Broadfoot, the posthumous G.C. Inevitably, I cannot now recollect where that came from.

    I now remember one further wrinkle about the loss of the Princess Victoria, which sounds gruesomely akin to the Herald of Free Enterprise. The Princess Victoria was built in 1946 or so, largely from same blueprints as its namesake (lost in war service off the Humber). The design, then, was a prototype for ro-ro ferries. The rear doors reached 5ft 6in high, and the rest of the access gate was closed by a wind-down guillotine plate. One account has the guillotine damaged on the 31st January 1953, and incapable of being closed. It is, therefore, some kind of tribute to the Dunbarton builders that she stayed afloat for four hours.

  • They’ll be in a spot of operational bother as the other one is in for refit – maybe they will use a door off it to get the other one back on the waves….

  • Harry Flashman

    Thanks Malcolm.