Brian recalls his lucky escape from Zeebrugge sinking 30 years on

Many of us like to keep old watches for sentimental reasons. Brian Gibbons has a particularly good reason to keep his because he believes it helped save his life.

Wednesday, 8th March 2017, 10:36 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:45 am
Brian Gibbons, who survived the Zeebrugge ferry sinking in 1987, with remains of the watch which helped save his life and the a framed article from a Melton Times report on the incident EMN-170703-094217001

Thirty years ago, the 68-year-old, was one of the survivors when a ferry sank off the Belgian coast of Zeebrugge, claiming 193 lives.

Brian had been preparing to sleep as the Herald of Free Enterprise left port, bound for Dover.

But the doors had been accidentally left open and within 90 seconds the ship had capsized, leaving him trapped in a cabin.

He recalled: “It was traumatic - I still think about it most days.

“When the boat went over it threw me out of my bunk and water started coming in.”

Brian, a retired lorry driver who lives at Wymondham, had been on a working trip to Belgium.

He recalled: “We waited for seven hours to be rescued and it was very cold.

“I kept tapping my watch on the pipes to try to tell the rescuers where I was.

“As pieces broke off the watch I put them in my underpants.

“I kept the watch and the pieces when I was winched to safety by a helicopter.

“And when I got home the Melton Times did a story on what happened and they framed the watch for me.”

Brian was the last person to be saved from the stricken vessel.

There were many times, he said, when he feared he would never see his family again.

Married to Sharon, the couple have six children and 11 grandchildren.

“My family have been very supportive to me over the years and I feel very lucky to have survived,” said Brian.

He was at a special church memorial service at Dover on Monday for families touched by the tragedy 30 years on.

The bell was presented to St Mary’s Church in the town in honour of those who didn’t survive and Brian was one of the people who received it on behalf of the victims.

Recent publicity has brought back some dark memories but he said: “The interest from the media at these type of occasions gives me the opportunity to tell people that we should never forget the 193 people who died at Zeebrugge.

“They were the unlucky ones who didn’t make it out.”