Cleanup Continues From Cargo Ship Accident in the North Sea

cargo ship
(Photo: Debris on Terschelling in the northern Netherlands following the MSC Zoe accident at sea. Credit: @ErikScheer)

The cargo ship MSC Zoe, operated by Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), lost around 270 containers during a storm in the North Sea on January 2. Extensive debris from those containers washed up on several German and Dutch islands, prompting the company to intensify cleanup operations.

Late last Tuesday night, the cargo ship encountered heavy weather while sailing toward Bremerhaven, Germany, and a number of containers were either damaged or lost overboard, MSC noted. Gale force winds and waves as high as 33 feet were reported during that night, according to the BBC.

“Several containers were spotted in German waters and a further 11 were seen by the Dutch coastguard floating between the islands of Ameland and Schiermonnikoog,” according to the BBC.

Cargo from the containers began washing up on beaches in the region. Items included toys, packages of individually wrapped shoes, and flat screen TVs, photos shared by local Twitter users showed.

Local officials told the BBC that three of the shipping containers carried toxic substances. MSC did not provide a detailed account of the cargo, citing confidentiality between the shipping line and their customers. However, the company stated online that “we are not aware at this time of any public injury from the cargo in MSC-carried containers spilled overboard.”

MSC reported on Friday that they were directly taking over more of the cleanup of German and Dutch waters and beaches following the cargo ship spill. “MSC is now working with a number of salvage companies to add momentum to the quick response,” the company said. “In some locations, MSC is also taking over contracts initiated by local authorities as part of an emergency reaction to the incident, in order to provide a sustained and effective response operation.”

Cleanup along Dutch and German coastlines has involved specialized equipment such as fast boats to collect containers, sonar-tracing vessels for underwater recovery, an industrial raking machine for combing beaches, and a drone to scope out the area.

Supply Chain Dive’s Edwin Lopez noted that containers are routinely lost at sea. He cited World Shipping Council numbers showing an average of 612 annually over a three-year period. Most of that material never gets recovered, he added.

The World Shipping Council, Lopez continued, outlined industry initiatives to reduce the number of containers lost. They include verified gross mass rules, revised ISO standards, and updated codes for packing of cargo transport units, he explained.

“At any point in time, there are about 6,000 containerships active on the world’s seas and waterways linking continents and communities through trade,” the council said in 2017. “The container shipping industry’s goal remains to keep the loss of containers carried on those ships as close to zero as possible. Carriers will continue to explore and implement preventative and realistic measures to achieve that goal.”

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