Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management Cora van Nieuwenhuizen has said that agreements have been made with Germany about warnings to container ships sailing north of the Wadden Islands in bad weather. In addition, an investigation is taking place into using vessel traffic services in certain areas of the North Sea, all with a view to preventing container loss.

During the Maritime General Consultation (Algemeen Overleg Maritiem) which took place 2 June, the Minister also said she has received support from the German and Danish State Secretaries for a joint proposal to the IMO to change international regulations to help prevent container loss on the North Sea.

This will not involve a closure of the international shipping route in bad weather conditions, as there was no support from Denmark or Germany for such a measure and the Netherlands cannot make such a decision on its own. Van Nieuwenhuizen: ‘We will ask for an adjustment of the existing routing possibilities over the Wadden area.’

Also read: Minister tightens advice on Wadden Sea shipping routes

Baltic Tern did not receive warning from Germany

‘At the same time, we have agreed with Germany to harmonise the warnings we give to ships,’ the Minister added. ‘The Germans will warn the ships sailing in a westerly direction in the same way as the Dutch Coast Guard warns ships sailing to the east. This will include warnings to smaller container ships, the so-called feeders, which Germany did not warn before.’

Unfortunately, some miscommunication about this matter resulted in the Baltic Tern, a container feeder that lost five containers on 7 April at about 27.5 km north of Ameland in the North Sea, not receiving a warning from the Germans. At the time, they were only warning large container ships about the risks of the shipping routes north of the Wadden Islands. ‘This has now been remedied,’ Van Nieuwenhuizen stressed.

Also read: Container ship Baltic Tern loses five containers in the North Sea

Vessel traffic services

At the same time, the Minister says she is looking into vessel traffic services for container ships in certain areas of the North Sea to guide them during bad weather conditions. The results of this investigation are expected before the end of the year. On the basis of these results, she will decide what the next steps will be.

Earlier, Members of Parliament had asked to give the Coast Guard the authority to force ships to follow its advice. The Minister also touched upon this subject by saying that international law only allows her to use the Netherlands’ power of intervention for an individual ship that poses a serious and immediate danger to the Wadden area.

‘For example, if a tanker were to lose propulsion power and was at risk of grounding,’ stated the Minister. ‘The fact remains that strict conditions apply. It would not have been possible to exercise this power for the MSC Zoe and Baltic Tern for example, as there was no immediate threat.’

All in all, she concluded time will tell how ‘informing, advising and warning will play out in practice. Vessel traffic services could be the next step.’

Picture: Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen during the Maritime General Consultation.