After the MSC Zoe incident, the Dutch government has investigated whether Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) could help prevent such accidents. The result is that VTS will be introduced north of the Wadden Islands. In addition, Vessel Traffic Monitoring will be established around offshore wind farms.

The Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, Mark Harbers, has announced the plans in a letter to Parliament.

A report carried out by Arcadis for the Ministry confirms that VTS can contribute to the reduction of risks such as container loss, thus having a positive effect on safety and the protection of the marine environment. However, the Minister stresses that VTS, especially in exceptional (weather) conditions, will never be able to completely eliminate the risk of incidents.

Also read: Dutch government wants new regulations for container ships after MSC Zoe

Voluntary VTS

Vessel traffic services is a collective term for the support of waterway users by a coastal state, whereby a distinction is made between active (Vessel Traffic Services; VTS) and passive (Vessel Traffic Monitoring; VTM) traffic services.

Participation of ships in a VTS in the area near the Wadden Sea is only possible on a voluntary basis because the internationally established shipping routes are (partly) outside of Dutch territorial waters. In practice, this means that no mandatory maritime traffic instructions can be given on the routes above the Wadden Sea.

However, the picture worldwide is that the shipping industry almost without exception takes part in a voluntary VTS and generally adheres well to the recommendations, says the Minister. The final responsibility for navigation always lies with the master.

The Minister will institute active traffic guidance (VTS) in a demarcated area to the north-west of Den Helder, to be implemented by the State Harbour Master Den Helder. The main arguments for this are as follows:

  • VTS will be permanently (24/7) available for the area near the Wadden Sea, for all ships and under all weather conditions. With active traffic control, the operator is fully and continuously available for supporting shipping traffic. In this way, every captain is provided with information at any time (solicited and unsolicited) that helps him in the decision-making process on board.
  • In order to achieve as much uniformity as possible in comparable situations in neighbouring countries, such as Germany, Denmark, France and the United Kingdom, the working method in the neighbouring countries is closely followed.
  • The set-up of VTS mainly focuses on providing information and advice to the shipping industry with regard to traffic flows and factors that may influence navigation, such as weather conditions, waves and other shipping traffic. In addition, specific attention to the protection of nature and the environment is an important element.

Also read: Video: The forces that caused the MSC Zoe to lose containers explained

VTM at offshore wind farms

Spatial developments at sea (particularly the increase in the number of wind farms) lead to an increase in risks to shipping safety. Recent incidents in and around wind farms, such as with the Julietta D on 31 January, are a tangible example of this. The Minister has therefore also decided to introduce passive traffic guidance (VTM), to be carried out by the Netherlands Coast Guard, around wind farms (and those to be developed).

In order to mitigate the increasing risks, an extensive package of measures for shipping safety around wind farms will be implemented. VTM will be an important element in this. This passive form of traffic control fits in with the current core tasks of the Coast Guard, such as maritime services and can also have a direct added value for enforcement and incident response, states the Minister.

Introduction to take at least three years

The complete introduction of active VTS north-west of Den Helder takes at least three years due to the adaptation of national and international regulations, the recruitment and training of personnel and the expansion of nautical equipment. The first steps have already been taken.

For VTM around wind farms, the intended implementation date is set for early 2025. This trajectory will follow the further roll-out of offshore wind energy.

Until VTS is fully implemented, the Coast Guard will continue to provide its current working method, whereby container ships receive warnings and advisories in storm conditions, depending on their size, from a certain wave height. According to the Arcadis report, this method of working by the Coast Guard is already a passive form of traffic control.

Also read: ‘MSC Zoe type shipping disaster could happen again tomorrow’

IMO proposal

The Netherlands, together with Germany and Denmark, has also submitted a proposal to IMO for the adaptation of existing, internationally established routing measures above the Wadden area. The proposed adjustment to the routing measures consists of a recommendation in the description of the existing shipping lanes in line with the warnings that the Coast Guard and the German authorities issue to container ships. In this proposal, a connection is made with the Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) status of the Wadden Sea. The substantive discussion of the proposal is scheduled at IMO soon.

MSC Zoe and Julietta D accidents

The accident with the MSC Zoe took place in the night of 1 to 2 January 2019, north of the Wadden Islands. The ship, almost 400 metres long, ran into trouble during a storm while sailing the southern shipping lane, which carries ships close to the Wadden Islands. As a result, the ship lost 342 containers into the sea. It took until September 2021 for the clean-up operation to be completed.

The Julietta D was in an anchorage near IJmuiden, the Netherlands, on Monday 31 January, when the bulk carrier’s anchor gave way as a result of a storm. The vessel then collided with the oil/chemical tanker Pechora Star, which was in the same anchorage. The collision resulted in damage to the Julietta D’s hull. After the collision, the Julietta D was taking on water and the eighteen crew were evacuated by helicopter. The ship then drifted towards the coast of Scheveningen and collided with an offshore platform before Smit Salvage managed to secure a tow and bring it to safety.

Picture by Netherlands Coast Guard.

Also read: Salvaged Julietta D arrives in Port of Rotterdam