Grieving families affected by the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster will gather to mark the 31st anniversary memorial service in Dover at 11am on Tuesday (March 6).
The Herald capsized in just 90 seconds after setting sail from Zeebrugge, Belgium, on Friday March 6, 1987.
It was on course for Dover when tragedy struck and 193 people lost their lives.
Neil Spooner and Mary Smith were two of the lost. Their niece Kim Spooner will read at the service, which is held annually at St Mary’s Church by maritime charity Sailors’ Society.
Kim said: “I was eight years old at the time and I can remember it like it was yesterday. I knew that it was something absolutely terrible. The worst bit was waiting for news because we were obviously in a time when there were no mobile phones and no internet.
“For them, it was a spur of the moment trip. It wasn't a planned thing. They lived in Essex so lived quite close to the coast. It was fate. They could have gone the day before or the day after.
“Their deaths have completely affected my life. They were like a second mum and dad to me, and we were a really close-knit unit. I have never recovered from it to be honest.”
Sandra Welch, Sailors’ Society’s deputy chief executive and director of programme, said: “The tragedy may have happened 31 years ago but it has remained in the hearts of our chaplains who comforted and supported the families and survivors affected.
“Remembering the lost at the service gives us the chance to join with families in remembrance of the loved ones they lost that night, and the many heroic acts of crew and passengers.”
Port chaplains from the charity were involved in the support efforts in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.
Retired Sailors’ Society port chaplain Bill McCrea based himself in Dover during the two weeks after the disaster to counsel the bereaved, held funerals for four of the victims and offered ongoing support, in some cases for years.
On the first anniversary, Bill led a memorial service at the request of the families, starting a tradition that Sailors’ Society has repeated every year since.
Bill, who will read the address at this year’s service, said: “I have dealt with individual loss of life with seafarers’ families over the years, but it was the enormity of the situation that was so devastating. So many people lost their lives that night.”