FerriesPast and PresentTownsend Thoresen

MV Herald of Free Enterprise – Past and Present

IMO Number: 7820485

MV Herald of Free Enterprise

© Jurgen Stein

© Jurgen Stein

Steel triple screw motor vessel built by Schichau-Unterweser AG at Bremerhaven, (Yard No. 2280) West Germany in 1980 as a passenger and roll-on roll-off car and commercial vehicle ferry. Engined by Sulzer Bros. Ltd., Winterthur.

Technical Data

  • Length: 131.91m (overall), 121.1m (between perpendiculars)
  • Breadth of Hull: 22.7m (moulded), 23.19m (extreme)
  • Depth: 12.6m
  • Draught: 5.72m (Maximum)
  • Tonnage: 7,951 gross/3,439.05 net/2492t
  • Engines: Three 8,000 bhp Sulzer 2V/48 Dieselseach driving a controllable pitch
  • propeller via a 2.36:1 ratio reduction gearbox.
  • Electrical Power: 3 internal combustion driven alternators, each of 1063 kVA capacity
  • Power: 17,640kW/23967 hp
  • Speed: 23 knots
  • Capacity: 1,326 passengers, 350 cars (maximum)
  • Number of crew: 74
  • Call Sign: GBJV
  • IMO Number: 7820485
  • Official Number: 379260
  • Registry: Dover/United Kingdom 🇬🇧
  • Sister Ships: Pride of Free Enterprise (2281)Spirit of Free Enterprise (2279)
  • (All above information: 
    Department of Trade mv Herald of Free Enterprise Report of Court No. 8074, Formal Investigation)


December 12th 1979: Launched.

Steve Salter Archives Steve Salter Archives Steve Salter Archives Steve Salter Archives

Steve Salter Archives

After all three identical “Spirit Class” sisters went into service each had their own distinguishing paintwork: Initially the “Spirit” had green bridge roof with white vents together with a green top to the lift housing on the starboard side, to the rear of the funnel. The “Pride” had an orange then green bridge roof with “Townsend” orange vents and orange lift housing, the “Herald” white bridge roof, vents, lift housing together with black surrounds to the bridge windows.

Courtesy of Andreas Wörteler (© Arnold Kludas)

Courtesy of Andreas Wörteler (© Arnold Kludas, Bremerhaven 02/1980)

May 1980: Delivered to Townsend Car Ferries Ltd., Dover, England.

© Bernt Anderson Collection

© Bernt Anderson Collection

May 29th 1980: Commenced service between Dover – Calais, also Dover – Zeebrugge.

© Cees De Bijl  © Cees De Bijl

© Cees De Bijl

© Bernt Anderson Collection

© Bernt Anderson Collection

Courtesy of Chris Howell 

Courtesy of Chris Howell

© Ken Larwood © Ken Larwood

© Ken Larwood © Ken Larwood 

© Ken Larwood  © Ken Larwood  © Ken Larwood

© Ken Larwood (all)

July 10th 1980: “As Dover rushed on towards its frantic summer, the two German – built Townsend-Thoresen sisters continued to plough their way across the Channel and the HERALD OF FREE ENTERPRISE crossed to Calais in a force 8 gale in 54 minutes 53 seconds (pier to pier) thus breaking her sister’s previous best by nearly a minute. The twins really are an impressive sight in the Strait. With their rounded , blunt bows, they seem to bulldoze their way across and “appear to swallow their loads with the greatest of ease”. (John Hendy, Sea Breezes Vol.54 No.417 September 1980)

January 31st 1983 – February 19th 1983: Paid an unexpected call to her builders at Bremerhaven having aggravated pier damage caused in early December (1982). No dry dock was necessary but plating on the starboard side was renewed and the deck plating behind straightened out.

September 1983: Switched onto the route Dover – Zeebrugge deputising for the FREE ENTERPRISE VIII, herself away at an Amsterdam refit.

1984: A new TT logo, in white, was introduced on the funnels.

© Gary Davies © Brian Fisher

© Gary Davies (Maritime Photographic)(Left) © Brian Fisher (Right)

© Fotoflite Image Ref 39694 © Ken Larwood

© Fotoflite (Left) © Ken Larwood (Right)

Courtesy of Chris Howell

Courtesy of Chris Howell

“It was an unusual and interesting experience crossing to Zeebrugge in the “Herald” and although perhaps her accommodation is not really suited to the longer run to the Belgian port, at this time of year passenger loadings are usually light and the extra space availability to the passengers was a pleasant bonus. In spite of the few passengers and the longer crossing, the stewards busied themselves with cleaning and polishing and were justifiably proud of their ship. Down in the engine room, the engineers had closed the starboard engine down to renew the fuel injectors and but even running on two engines we managed the crossing in a very creditable four hours and eight minutes. The “Herald’s” senior master, Capt. John Martin pointed out that this was one of the ways in which he felt the Townsend – Thoresen “Blue Riband” trio are superior to the Sealink vessels on the Dover – Calais route: in the event of engine trouble it was possible to shut one engine down and still keep to schedule…….
The enthusiasm and pride of the captain were plainly evident —- he expects high standards from those around him and they readily respond by giving it. The “Herald” could not be faulted and even some 10 months after her last refit, she was in remarkably fine condition both inside and out. She was a delight to sail in.” (John Hendy, Sea Breezes Vol.58 No.457 January 1984).

March 3rd 1985: Went for refit.

November 8th 1986: Moved back to Dover – Calais, as cover.

1987: Switched to Dover – Zeebrugge. Also announced that she was due to have cabins fitted during her refit.

February 1987:  Announcement made that during her refit she would receive a new video lounge and cabins in the area of her present “B” Deck bar.

March 6th 1987:

Department of Trade

(Department of Trade mv Herald of Free Enterprise Report of Court No. 8074, Formal Investigation)

“Many individual deeds of heroism were enacted that night among both passenger and crew as they fought to help each other from the overturned vessel. A swift rescue operation was co-ordinated by the Belgian authorities. Nevertheless many could not be reached inside the hull…The cause of the tragedy was water entering the car-deck through the bow doors, which had not been closed. The bow-wave that built up ahead of the vessel as she gathered speed simply washed into the ship.” (Crossing the Channel, Roy Henderson, Silver Link Publishing Ltd)

March 8th 1987: Verbal agreement between Townsend Thoresen and the Benelux joint venture for salvage.

“After various consultations, the conclusion was reached that the vessel could best be lifted by the use of 32 ‘strong points’ affixed to the struts of the solid E-deck. It would be these that the ‘fist thick’ cables would be fastened for the actual lifting operation when the lifting tugs would be used. The cables would have to cast from the ‘strong points’ over the par buckle supports (which would operate like a crow bar and as a protection against the friction from the steel cables) to the pulleys on the lifting tugs. The par buckle supports, those great monstrosities of more than two metres in height, would be welded onto the strongest part of the boat. A steel bumper, which would act like a corset, would be wound about the ferry. For extra lifting strength Smit-Tak kept two of its barges at the ready: both of which would be connected to the wreck by cables wrapped about the ferry and secured to its starboard side. This would guarantee extra power against any possible rolling motion”.

March 14th 1987: Contract signed between Townsend Thoresen and the consortium used for salvage (Smit-Tak, U.R.S. and the four firms of T.V.B. – also called Norma Ltd – Dredging International, Decloedt, De Nul and Herbosch – Kiere).

March 27th 1987: Contract was finalised only three weeks after the disaster

April 7th 1987: Vessel eventually raised by Dutch salvage company Smit-Tak.

April 24th 1987: Towed to Zeebrugge.

May 14th 1987: Towed to De Schelde yard, Vlissingen, Holland. Declared a total loss.

September 30th 1987: Sold to Compania Naviera S.A. Kingstown, Saint Vincent. Renamed FLUSHING RANGE.

October 5th 1987: Left Flushing towed by the tug MARKUSTURM. Then joined forces with the GAELIC FERRY which has been laid-up at Zeebrugge since April, 1986, after being used as a dumb barge to carry obsolete link-spans from Southampton to the Belgian port where the plan was that they would be used in the construction of a new double-decker berth. P & O obviously had other ideas as the Southampton link-spans never left the ship and continued on their way to the Far East.

October 1987: According to the Daily Mirror, whose issue carried exclusive photographs of the FLUSHING RANGE passing Beach Head, the tug captain was under orders to pass through the Straits off Dover during the night so as not to risk being seen.

October 16/17th 1987: The English Channel was lashed by hurricane force winds. The two ships broke loose and were “lost” for at least 24 hours until they were spotted by a French coastguard aircraft near Cape Finnisterre.

October 19th 1987: They were drifting off the Spanish port of Gijon. Tow re-established and journey continued.

December 27th 1987: Having broken free again, the vessels were sighted at position 34.46°S, 24.39°E near to Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

January 2nd 1988: Towed into Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

March 22nd 1988: The vessel eventually arrived at Kaohsiung , Taiwan for breaking.


We would like to thank: Cees De Bijl, Gary Davies (Maritime Photographic),  Brian Fisher, Fotoflite, Chris Howell, Ken Larwood, Jurgen Stein, Andreas Wörteler and Iain Yardley for their assistance in producing this feature. All information is believed to be correct and no responsibility is accepted for errors and omissions.

Special thanks go to John F Hendy.

Article © Nigel Thornton and Ray Goodfellow (Dover Ferry Photos Group)


  1. Was the February 1987 refit a definite? I always believed that the HOFE was on its last voyage before going for refit. This is very important.

    1. Hi Iain,
      I checked with my source and indeed you are correct.
      The entry should include “Announcement made that during her refit she would receive …….”
      Thanks for pointing this out and,as is my aim,making all information correct.

      Best wishes
      Nigel Thornton

      1. Phew! Thanks Nigel. I’m drawing up 3D plans for my new book “The Zeebrugge Legacy: The Story Of The Herald Of Free Enterprise” and I’ve just done the B-deck bar so when I read it had been replaced by a video lounge and cabins I thought I would have to get my eraser out!

        Survivors talk of being in the TV/video lounge but as this is not marked on any plans anywhere, I have to conclude that it was a normal lounge given over to cartoons being shown on television screens somewhere.

        Thanks for the info!

        1. I’m not really convinced that the time is yet right to consider publishing a book about the ‘Herald’ which is still so fresh in the memory and the continuing cause of much pain and anguish to many living in and around the port of Dover. It’s certainly a topic that, as a writer, I personally would wish to steer well clear of.

          John Hendy

          1. Evening John. I appreciate your comments about the timing of this book but have to disagree as the people I have already spoken to (passengers, relatives and crew members) believe this book is long overdue. It is not intended to be sensationalist but more of a tribute to everyone who was involved. I wouldn’t be writing it otherwise and anyone who I have approached and has not responded or have categorically said no won’t be bothered by me again.

            The book is already on Amazon, which I didn’t know about, put there by the publisher, but there is still a lot of work to do.



        2. Are good plans available of the external design of the ship showing attachments and hardware good enough to build a model from? Or a CAD drawing to produce a 3D printed model? I think now is the time to at least consider producing a good book and a more prominent memorial model while many of those are still around and able to contribute and comment on it.

  2. Hello Iain, my dad, David Saxby, died on the Herald. I was 15 and meant to go with him but couldn’t as I had important exams to do. I am very much looking forward to reading your book and seeing what you have to say. At university, one of my modules was Confessional Writing & Autobiography: I wrote about my experience (this was in 1997). I am married with two sons, the oldest being called David after my dad. Should you wish to contact me, feel free at calvsaxby@aol.com. Best wishes, Calvin.

  3. Interesting information, thank you. Having read the official report and various documents relating I’m curious, just what happened involving deck officer cadets when she rolled over, was one of them supposed to have closed the doors? That Captain Miller on the Spirit of Britian knew of something and this coloured his views of cadets in general seemed strange, was he a Cadet or junior officer on the Herald?

    1. The Herald was most definitely scrapped in Taiwan in 1988. With such a large number of fatalities on board and her significant damage deemed her a total loss. Unlike today where images exist of familiar ferries being beached and scrapped – I believe that no photographic evidence exists of the Herald’s scrapping under the name Flushing Range.

      1. There was a theory going round that she wasn’t scrapped or part of her wasn’t scrapped and new superstructure was added to the hull but I am not one who believes that even though there is no “Photographic Evidence” of it’s scrapping doesn’t mean the yard where she and the Gaelic Ferry were scrapped weren’t told “No Photos or it’s your livelihood gone”

        1. I have a page from a 1988 copy of, I think, the Daily Mail showing Herald of Free Enterprise alongside the breaker’s wharf in Kaohsiung with her new “owner” in a hard hat and wearing a big grin having commented “this will make very good scrap” which I think translates to “I’m going to make a lot of money from this”.

    2. No, she was scrapped in 1988. Her two sisters were operating until the early 2010’s

      Hope this helps

      1. I the Former “PRIDE OF FREE ENTERPRISE” lasted until 2015! The former “SPIRIT OF FREE ENTERPRISE” was scrapped in 2012 but she hadn’t worked since 2008 due to financial collapse of GA Ferries! So not only was the “Pride” the last of the “Spirits” built she truely was “The Last of The Spirits”

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