Shipping routes, wind farms, and oil rigs are all competing for space in the North Sea. The increasing number of fixed objects poses risks for shipping. However, those risks are not properly understood. That’s the Dutch Safety Board’s conclusion in its report “Compromise on room to manoeuvre – Managing the safety of shipping in an increasingly crowded North Sea”.

In the North Sea, wind-sensitive vessels such as ultra large container ships can already encounter problems in a wind force of just 6 Beaufort. There is not enough room for those vessels to make a complete turn in case of an emergency. And in hazardous situations, the current emergency response towing vessels cannot always assist them.

Also read: Dutch Safety Board investigates increasingly crowded North Sea waters

North Sea as a single entity

To prevent nasty surprises for shipping and the environment, the Dutch Safety Board recommends that the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management should improve how risks to the safety of shipping are managed. When decisions are made on the layout for the various activities, the North Sea should be viewed as a single entity, and the Netherlands should cooperate with the six other North Sea coastal states.

‘You can compare the activity in the North Sea to that in an industrial area,’ explains Erica Bakkum, Dutch Safety Board member. ‘The Dutch Safety Board carried out a number of simulations. These showed that large vessels can already find themselves facing serious difficulties in situations that occur quite frequently. The current and planned layout of the various activities poses risks, and we need to understand those risks better.’

She adds: ‘The safety of shipping must be taken into account more explicitly in decision-making on the layout of activities in the North Sea, especially given future developments in shipping and wind farms. This can be facilitated by coordinating planned activities more effectively – or even relocating them – and through improved international cooperation when defining shipping routes.’

Also read: DSB: Fatal collision shows need for better sailing behaviour and regulations on Wadden Sea

Investigation triggered by Julietta D

The Dutch Safety Board’s report “Compromise on room to manoeuvre – Managing the safety of shipping in an increasingly crowded North Sea” was triggered by the problems faced by the Maltese bulk carrier Julietta D during storm Corrie in early 2022. As the vessel drifted towards the Dutch coast, it first collided with another ship and then with two structures that form part of a wind farm under construction.

Photo by Martin Cooper, Flickr CC BY 2.0.

Also read: Salvaged Julietta D arrives in Port of Rotterdam