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1987: Zeebrugge heroes honoured
Belgians and Britons who displayed heroism during the rescue operation of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster have been recognised in the New Year's Honours List.

A total of 31 people are to receive honours for helping to save an estimated 350 passengers when the Herald of Free Enterprise capsized, near Bruges, on 6 March claiming 193 lives.

One of the highest civilian awards for gallantry, the George Medal, has been awarded to head waiter Michael Skippen who died trying to get passengers to safety.

I had no thoughts of heroism at all
Andrew Parker
It also goes to Andrew Parker who formed a human bridge to allow others to clamber to safety across him.

Four Belgians are among the 10 people who will receive the Queen's Gallantry Medal, and two Royal Navy petty officers will be awarded the Queen's Commendation for Bravery.

A further 17 meritorious awards, including those to hospital staff in Bruges who helped treat victims, have been given out.

Eye-witness reports

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Parker said: "I had no thoughts of heroism at all... the only priority is survival.

"Things happened so fast there was no time to be terrified, no time to panic."

Mr Parker has helped set up the Herald Family's Association.

The tragedy, which unfolded in just 90 seconds, took place as the Townsend Thoresen, ferry the Herald of Free Enterprise - full of freight, cars and passengers - sailed out of Zeebrugge harbour.

It capsized and passengers were plunged into icy waters but many of the bodies of the deceased were not found until the ferry was up-righted five weeks later.

Many of the honours bestowed upon those who displayed heroism during the tragedy were decided based on eye witness reports at the time.

The Department of Transport helped decide the final list but it is widely understood many others who may have deserved recognition may have been overlooked.

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Herald of Free Enterprise
The ferry sank as it left Zeebrugge harbour


In Context
A subsequent inquiry revealed the ferry set sail with its bow doors open.

Water seeped into the cargo holds until it capsized and many of the victims died after being thrown around inside the ferry.

In the days after the disaster there were conflicting reports of the number of casualties and the number of people on board.

There were calls for a change in the law after the Appeal Court ruled no one could be held responsible and an attempt to prosecute failed because no "controlling officer" could be identified.

But it did help precipitate new laws for ferry safety including recording the number of passengers, their sex, name and age.

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