Thames safety warning on 30th anniversary of Marchioness disaster

Little has been done to reduce the risk of older boats sinking on the River Thames since the Marchioness disaster 30 years ago, the Port of London Authority (PLA) has warned.

Fifty-one young people died when the pleasure boat Marchioness, packed with partygoers, collided with the dredger Bowbelle near Southwark Bridge in central London in the early hours of 20 August 1989.

The 30th anniversary was remembered in a vigil next to the Thames on Monday night, with the names of those who died read out and petals thrown into the water.

Survivors and families of the victims joined a procession from Southwark Cathedral to Bankside nearby the site of the accident, where a short service was held.

Boats from the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, the fire and rescue service and Port of London Authority gathered on the river for the crews to pay their respects.

PLA chief executive Robin Mortimer said the tragedy led to a series of safety improvements on the Thames but the chances of an older vessel surviving a collision have not significantly improved.

He said: “There’s a whole bunch of measures in place to reduce the likelihood of a collision occurring.

“The concern we’ve got is that the impact side of the risk is still fairly similar for older vessels because the vessel itself hasn’t changed.”

Flashing lights on bridges and a system for tracking river traffic are among steps taken to reduce crashes on the river since the disaster.

“If all of those measures don’t work effectively and there is a collision then the consequences could still be very serious,” Mr Mortimer added.

Most of those on board the Marchioness were high flyers from the finance and fashion worlds.

Odette Penwarden, 72, of east London, spoke about how she survived the sinking but had lost many of her friends.

She told Sky News: “It’s the saddest night of my life, I lost five close friends and only just survived myself and it took a long time for me to come to terms with that.”

“I had to dive back down into the water and swim along the length of the boat and I got out through a broken window along with two or three other people.

“Losing all of those friends, and they were all talented, smart, handsome, wonderful people and I started to wonder why I’d survived and they hadn’t and it made me want to live my life as well as I can. And I’ve tried to do that ever since.”

Andrew Dennis, 54, of north London, attended Monday night’s service to remember his brother Howard and four friends who died in the tragedy.

He expressed his “disbelief” that the boats and bridges on the Thames do not have more safety lights.

“It’s so simple,” he said. “It’s not even 9 o’clock and already you can barely see.”

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