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Zeebrugge - Learning From Disaster

Stuart Crainer

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On 6 March 1987 the Herald of Free Enterprise a modern cross-Channel ferry suddenly rolled over on its side in calm, shallow water just outside the port of Zeebrugge killing 192 people. The cause was human error and poor management on board and on shore.  Incredibly, the vessel had set sail with its bow doors wide open and the sea simply poured in. Closing the doors was left to a junior member of the crew who failed to do so and there was no system in place for anyone to check. The chairman of the ferry's owners said later it was a 'bit far-fetched' to blame shore management.

This factual account of the disaster and its aftermath presents a different picture. It is not a 'disaster' book, but a study of corporate responsibility - what happens when management fails. The book also questions why the law-making, regulatory and investigative bodies treat possible crimes of 'corporate violence' less seriously that they treat financial misdemeanours.

Commissioned by The Herald Families Association, a group set up after the tragedy by people whose lives were irreparably damaged by one of Britain's most unnecessary disasters, it was researched and written by an author with no emotional involvement. The families hoped the findings would help change management attitudes and prevent further disasters. As such, it is intended to be a memorial to those who died rather than an indictment of the irresponsibility which contributed to their deaths.

This book holds valuable lessons for many people: business leaders in all sectors of commerce and industry; those responsible for training, motivating and supervising employees; young people just starting to climb the management ladder; and all who believe that management accountability involves moral as well as legal issues.


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