THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – A Dutch watchdog said on Thursday that it is ‘undesirable’ for large container ships to use a shipping route through an environmentally sensitive, shallow sea off the coast of the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark in severe north-westerly storms due to the increased risk of them lose load.
The conclusion came in a report from the Dutch Safety Board on the loss of hundreds of containers from a ship, the MSC Zoe, on New Year’s Day 2019, which led to tons of attacks on nearby beaches.
“The lessons to be learned from this accident should lead to better risk management of container transport on shipping routes,” the report said.
The ship, which carried more than 8,000 containers, sailed north of an island chain in the Wadden Sea on a route from the Portuguese port of Sines to Bremerhaven, Germany, when it was hit by waves that were driven up by a northwestern storm. It lost 342 containers and 3,000 tons of cargo overboard, the Safety Board report said.
North of the Wadden Islands there are two sailing routes – a southern passage, which is shallower and closer to the islands, and a northern route. The Zoe used the southern route.
“The Dutch Safety Board concludes that because of the value of the Wadden Sea Region, it is undesirable that these container ships choose the southern shipping route along the Wadden Sea coast during a northwestern storm,” the council said.
In the days and weeks following the incident, debris, including shoes, televisions, light bulbs, and packaging materials washed up on normally pristine beaches. The Dutch government sent the armed forces to the region to assist in the clean-up operation and a salvage vessel fished sunken containers from the seabed.
When large, wide container ships make extreme rolling movements, they are hit from the side by waves generated by northwestern storms in the Wadden Sea. It added that on the shallow southern shipping lane, there is a risk that ships will remain aground and waves will be forced upwards, putting an extreme strain on the lashing systems used to keep containers on board.
The Dutch Safety Board has made a series of recommendations, including that the Dutch, German and Danish governments are working together to make a proposal to the International Maritime Organization to protect the environmentally sensitive Wadden region.
“The aim of this proposal should be to minimize the loss of containers to the north of the Wadden Islands and to protect the Wadden area,” the Dutch report said. “These could be measures for (a specific category of) container ships, and possibly adaptation of the two shipping routes to the north of the Wadden Islands.”
Bernd-Carsten Hiebing, legislator of the center-right party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the state of Lower Saxony, said the report highlights the continuing dangers of shipping. But he opposed calls from the green opposition party for a ban on “mega container ships,” saying it would not help improve the safety of people and the environment.
Instead, he said it would be better to find out which routes are navigable by which types and classes of ships. He also supported stricter rules for securing freight and using location transmitters for dangerous cargo containers.
AP writer Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.
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