The Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management Cora van Nieuwenhuizen is in talks with MSC about recovering the clean up costs of the MSC Zoe disaster in the Dutch Wadden Sea. She says there are prospects of reaching an agreement with the shipping company.

The MSC Zoe lost 342 containers north of the Wadden Islands during the night of 1 January 2019 resulting in environmental damage and high clean-up costs. The Dutch Government has urged the Minister to make sure MSC pays for both the costs already incurred as well as those yet to come in the future. In addition, the Government wants MSC to pay for ecological research because of the possible long-term damage to the Wadden Sea area.

In a letter to Parliament, the Minister writes ‘Negotiations with MSC are time-consuming and require a careful approach, partly because third party interests are also involved, such as the Wadden Island municipalities and nature management organisations. However, she adds there are prospects of reaching an agreement with MSC, in which ‘MSC will take responsibility for reimbursing a substantial part of the costs.’

The salvage operation at sea after the accident is said to have cost MSC approximately 35 million euros. In addition, the national government, municipalities and nature managers have together claimed a total of 3.35 million euros from the shipping company, of which the company still has to pay 1.93 million euros. Yet, there may also be future salvage costs or costs as a result of ecological damage found after further research.

Southern Wadden Sea route

Dutch Parliament also asked the Minister to investigate whether it would be possible to close the southern Wadden Sea route for large container ships during a storm or even permanently. In January she said the Netherlands cannot decide this on its own, but would have to submit a proposal to do so to the International Maritime Organization (IMO). In the letter sent to Parliament this week, she says that ‘such a proposal will have to be made at least in close consultation with Germany and Denmark.’

MARIN is currently carrying out various studies to gain more insight into the behaviour of large container ships under different weather conditions above the Wadden Sea. The results of these are expected before the summer.

Building block for follow-up steps towards IMO

In addition, Rijkswaterstaat is conducting research into the risk of loss of deck cargo (including containers) by ships in the North Sea and possible control measures to mitigate that risk. The results of this research are expected in the second half of 2020.

The Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) carried out an investigation into the lashing of containers on seagoing vessels. This investigation has been completed and the report will soon be sent to Parliament to consider.

‘These investigations, together with the expected investigation by the Dutch Safety Board with regard to the accident with the MSC Zoe, are important building blocks for possible follow-up steps towards IMO,’ says the Minister.

Picture: Salvage of containers of the MSC Zoe on the North Sea (by Netherlands Coastguard).