The Ro-Ro, or more fully the Roll on - roll off vessel, comes in a number of shapes and sizes, but generally in two types; the passenger ro-ro and the Cargo ro-ro.
Passenger ro-ros have become common sights wherever people want to travel over water with their vehicles. It is probably the only type of cargo vessel that most people have travelled on. Usually a rear door (but sometimes a bow door) allows for vehicles to be driven on and off, stored on the car deck below the passenger accommodation areas.
The cargo ro-ro is less "plush" than the passenger type, as these vessels are designed for the carriage of commercial vehicles where luxurious passenger accommodation is not a primary consideration. Considerable concerns have been expressed over the bow-door type of ro-ro design. The HERALD OF FREE ENTERPRISE was one such vessel, where a practice of sailing before the bow door was fully closed had been allowed to develop. Tragically, on leaving Zeebrugge, the folly of this practice led to the disaster that claimed nearly 200 lives. If water is allowed to enter the car deck, the stability of the whole vessel can be rapidly affected. It is estimated that it only needs one centimetre of water over the whole car deck, for the vessel to become so unstable that it can overturn. The ESTONIA was another such vessel where, in a storm, the shield over the bow door was ripped off. Once water penetrated the car deck the vessel began to turn over and sink. In the bitter waters of the Baltic Sea, the loss of life was terrible. Another earlier accident was that of the SEASPEED DORA which led many to call these vessels "ro-ro-ro" ships - Roll on, roll off....roll over !!!
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