Assistant Purser Stephen Homewood was on 24 hour duty on the trip out to Zeebrugge and back. He describes how a routine sailing turned into utter disaster in the few minutes it took to leave Zeebrugge harbour. People he has spoken to in the minutes leading up to departure would not be alive minutes later as it all happened so fast. He describes the frightening moments as the ship began to pitch and roll and then turned on its side, trapping everyone in the dark with cold seawater pouring in. He describes the ordeal of trying to find his way through the ship which was now at a 90 degree angle, turning floors into walls and walls into floors, and saying how difficult it was to know where you were.
Stephen regroups with other staff out on the hull of the boat where one man confesses in shock that he forgot to close the bow doors, causing the disaster. That guy becomes part of the crew rescue that went back in to try and save other people. Stephen describes the freezing water that killed survivors with its chill, dead bodies of people he knew and passengers and the surreal feeling of being part of a disaster. He ends up back in Zeebrugge, trying to contact his family, dealing with the media intrusion and coming to terms with the friends he lost that night.
After the disaster came the aftermath. He found it difficult to deal with the attitude of P&O who owned the ship, who viewed the survivors as more of an embarrassment and an inconvenience. They were snubbed from official events and services, or made to sit at the back behind VIP guests, told not to go to the funeral of their deceased friends. When a few of the crew went to sea on a sister ship just before staring back to work, P&O failed to warn them of an emergency drill taking place on it during that day, which sent all of them into a panic. Family members of the dead were offered a free cruise ended up berthed in Tenerife next to the wreck of the Herald of Free Enterprise which was a dreadful shock to them.
Overall, it was quite a shocking book to read. The disaster details were scary but the way they were treated afterwards was a complete scandal. I found the book interesting and well written.
Read May 2017.