LONDON—Last month's sinking of the English Channel ferry the Herald of Free Enterprise has focused attention on a group of scientists and engineers whose unique expertise has been neglected in the rash of recent privatizations in Britain.

Companies operating similar "roll-on, roll-off" (or Ro-Ro) ferries have not responded to efforts by the managers of the now privately owned company British Maritime Technology (BMT) to point out the design weaknesses of such craft. One consequence is that a modern test tank, with facilities to simulate ocean wave conditions, has been mothballed.

The speed with which the Herald of Free Enterprise turned over has brought to light the fact that BMT's specialists, following an investigation of the capsizing of another Ro-Ro ferry, had warned that it could happen again. BMT had suggested that the 1982 capsizing of the ferry European Gateway following a collision pointed to serious design weaknesses in such ships...

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