The Netherlands cannot simply close the southern shipping lane above the Wadden Islands to container ships. That is what a spokesman for Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen (Infrastructure and Water Management) says after questions from Nieuwsblad Transport.

Government parties ChristenUnie (CU) and D66 argue in favour of such a ban in order to prevent a future environmental disaster, such as happened with the MSC Zoe. In the night of 1-2 January this year, 342 containers were thrown overboard as the MSC Zoe sailed the southern shipping lane above the Wadden Sea. A large part of them washed ashore on the islands, resulting in enormous (environmental) damage.

Warning for Southern Shipping Route

The Dutch Safety Board (OvV) is investigating the accident involving the container vessel. At the beginning of this month, the organisation warned that large vessels are at risk if they take the southern shipping route above the Wadden Islands.

Many shipping companies use this route because it is shorter and therefore economically more advantageous for them than the northern route. At the moment, large container ships do receive instructions from the Coast Guard, but it is not forbidden to choose the route.

Emergency Law

According to D66 and CU, this must end. The government parties want the minister to prohibit large container ships from using this route by means of an emergency law. Economic interests take precedence over safety, according to D66 and CU. The storm season has now started and at the moment there is a daily threat of an ecological disaster on this busy route, they warn.

Asking the ministry, it turns out that this call is not getting off the ground. The Minister is not in a position to introduce such a measure. According to a spokesman, this is contrary to international maritime legislation.

Bound by IMO

‘When a country wants to change shipping routes, you have to apply to the International Maritime Organization (IMO),’ says the spokesman. The Netherlands must first submit an application to the maritime organisation. Subsequently, all member states must consider it before the IMO takes a final decision.

The spokesman cannot yet say whether the Minister intends to submit such a request to the IMO. ‘The conclusions of the investigation by the Dutch Safety Board will serve as a possible basis for this.’ The safety organisation is expected to publish its findings in early 2020.

On Tuesday evening (2 December), Dutch Parliament will further debate about the container disaster.

This article first appeared on Nieuwsblad Transport, a sister publication of SWZ|Maritime.

Picture by Kees Torn.

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