The Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management Cora van Nieuwenhuizen is tightening advice for container shipping on the shipping routes north of the Wadden Islands. This follows from research into the MSC Zoe disaster.

The advice is based on a report by the MARIN research centre on the conditions at sea when the MSC Zoe lost 342 containers during a storm on the so-called southern route during the night of 1 to 2 January 2019. Part of the contents of these containers washed ashore on the beaches of the Wadden Islands. This led to months of clean-up operations and the necessary wrangling over the costs involved.

The investigation shows that the risk of container loss on the southern route is greater than on the northern route, but also that this risk strongly depends on specific weather conditions and the characteristics of the vessel. The Minister says that she cannot force ships to take the northern route and that the Coast Guard can only give advice. In principle, shipping companies prefer the southern route to Hamburg because it is shorter and therefore faster and cheaper than the northern route.

Wave heights

In a letter to the House of Representatives, Van Nieuwenhuizen now says that she wants the Coast Guard to base itself on ‘provisional limiting wave heights’, which MARIN has established for three types of container ships (feeder, Panamax and ULCS). At those wave heights, there is a chance that containers will go overboard. In some cases, these are lower than five metres. This is the limit that the Coast Guard now uses when advising ships to take the northern route.

According to Van Nieuwenhuizen, ‘the Coast Guard is going to work on this, but needs time to arrange the widening of the advice properly’. She is also still in consultation with the Germans about the course to be followed. According to MARIN, further research is needed to establish the definitive limits for wave heights.


The Minister further announces that the Cabinet will respond in full to the research reports on the container loss of the MSC Zoe for the planned general consultation on Maritime Affairs with the House of Representatives on 3 December. She will also explain then how the Wadden Sea area can be better protected from container loss. Part of this is a Cabinet response to the consequences of the increase in scale in container shipping and the way in which it intends to deal with this in an IMO and national context.

This article first appeared in Dutch on Nieuwsblad Transport, a publication of SWZ|Maritime’s publishing partner Promedia.

Picture by the Netherlands Coast Guard.