Ronald Thwaites QC, representing the Metropolitan Police, was speaking at a public meeting held in London to decide whether there should be a further investigation into the disaster.
Survivors and families of the 51 victims gasped in disbelief when Mr Thwaites pointed out that an inquiry could prove very traumatic for the hundreds of officers who helped with the rescue effort.
Barbara Davis, whose son Jonathan narrowly escaped death in the sinking, responded: "While we're very grateful for everything the police did, we have to accept they are paid employees who had to deal with the situation as part of their duties. This shouldn't be used as a reason not to hold an inquiry."
The pleasure boat Marchioness sank after a collision with the dredger Bowbelle on the Thames near Blackfriars Bridge on 20 August 1989.
The survivors and families of victims of the disaster also renewed their 10-year fight for a public inquiry into the tragedy, claiming they had been misled by the Government.
"I am furious," said Iain Philpott, 38, a survivor of the tragedy in which his girlfriend, Tamsin Cole, died. "John Prescott promised us we would get our inquiry, yet here we are still fighting for it. I feel we have been misled."
Last August, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, announced a public inquiry covering the Marchioness tragedy. In September, Mr Prescott appointed the Appeal Court Judge, Lord Justice Sir Anthony Clarke, to head the inquiry.
Sir Anthony's terms of reference say he is to hold an inquiry into safety on the Thames in advance of the millennium celebrations and to investigate whether there should be a full public inquiry into the Marchioness disaster.