LONDON, JULY 24 -- The capsizing of a passenger ferry in the English Channel last spring, in which 188 persons died, was caused by negligence on the part of the ship's officers and sloppy procedures by the company that owned it, a senior judge ruled today.
Announcing the results of a government-ordered investigation into the March 6 disaster, Lord Justice Barry Sheen ruled that the license of the captain of the ship, the Herald of Free Enterprise, be suspended for one year. The ship's first officer was given a two-year suspension.
No sanctions were ordered against the man deemed most directly responsible for the capsizing, assistant bosun Mark Stanley, who failed in his responsibility to close the ferry's loading doors as it cast off from Zeebrugge, Belgium, for Dover, England.
As the ship was being loaded, Sheen's report said, Stanley had gone to his cabin and fallen asleep, failing to hear the call to "harbor stations." He awoke only when he was tipped out of his bunk as the ferry began to capsize.
Sheen said it was up to the Townsend Thoresen ferry company to determine whether Stanley should be disciplined.
Sheen also cited "cardinal faults" in the company, saying, "From top to bottom, the corporation was affected by the disease of sloppiness." He said standing orders for closing the doors were regularly flouted and there was no system to check that they had been secured.
In a statement this afternoon to the House of Commons, Transport Secretary Paul Channon said that the government would impose new maritime regulations making it a criminal offense to neglect to close ferry doors before leaving a dock.
Channon said that a package of new safety measures also would include mandatory video and electrical systems to monitor whether the doors had been closed. He said the government would also study the basic design of "roll-on, roll-off" ferries like the Herald of Free Enterprise, which some experts have criticized as inherently unstable.