MV Arca, an oil spill response vessel of the Dutch government

Search for missing crewmembers Baltic Ace has been called off.

By Tobias Pieffers, Local Correspondent

ROTTERDAM – The Dutch Coast Guard has called off the search for the six crewmembers still missing after the sinking of car carrier Baltic Ace. The missing are presumed dead due weather conditions and cold water, and officials say some of the bodies could sill be trapped inside the sunken vessel.

At the scene of the collision is the Dutch government-owned hydrographic research and oil spill response vessel M/V Arca.  Arca’s crew has placed five cardinal buoys at the scene marking the location of the wreck. The vessel will stay at the scene to ensure safe traffic near the Baltic Ace.

The wreck forms an immediate danger to traffic. The vessel sunk in an incredibly busy area, just south of the beginning of the Eurogeul which leads to the port of Rotterdam. According to Mariska Verbeij,  spokeswoman of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, the Arca has conducted a small survey using it’s multi beam echo-sounder.  “Due to bad weather conditions and limited amount of water above the wreck a more detailed survey using an external echo-sounder (called ‘the fish’ by the vessels crew) could not be conducted. But the images we’ve obtained so far show the vessel is intact.”  The water depth at the scene is 36 meters, and there is only 6 meters of water between the Baltic Ace and the surface. This afternoon, the Dutch Coastguard announced that the Arca will stay at the scene, at least until this coming Monday. “On Monday a new assessment will be made deciding wether or not the Arca will have stay longer to guide traffic at the scene”, a spokesperson said.

The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment maintains contact with Baltic Ace owner Baltic Highway Piraeus regarding the salvage of the ship. “We are waiting for the owner to come up with a plan for salvaging the vessel, but this usually takes time.” Smit Salvage has offered ‘to help with the salvage of the Baltic Ace. “We’ve had contact with the insurance company and the owner of the vessel”, press officer Martijn Schuttevaer of Boskalis-Smit Salvage says. “With these kind of accidents the first to steps are the search and rescue of crewmembers and the removal of all oils within the ship. We are waiting for the Dutch government to decide wether they find salvage of the vessel necessary or not.”

On board the Baltic Ace were 1417 cars of the brand Mitsubishi. Some Dutch media report rumors that there were also some ferrari’s, Bentley’s, Rolls Royce’s and Lamborghini’s on board.

On Monday, it was announced that Svitzer has been hired to remove the fuel oil from the vessel.

Dutch media

Dutch newspapers are all reporting on the accident. In today’s copy off De Volkskrant 40 year old diver Jurrie Mulier of the 40th squadron of the Belgian air force tells how he rescued seven people that were floating around in a life raft. “The raft was dancing on the waves. The zippers of the raft were closed so we could not see wether there were people inside. I went down into the cold water and had to unleash myself from the helicopter to make sure Iwould not endanger it’s flight.” Inside the raft were seven crewmembers, the article states. Two of them were only wearing underwear. The raft was filled with cold water and all crewmembers were suffering severe hypothermia. “If we had arrived 30 minutes we would have been too late”, Mulier says. Mulier was lowered to the raft seven times to get all the crewmembers out.

Several newspapers report stories from fishermen who witnessed the sinking of the vessel. In De  Telegraaf fisherman René Sperling tells how he heard the distress call on the radio. “The captain was panicking. We are sinking, we need help fast, I heard him shout. He sounded very emotional, upset.” Sperling assisted in the search and rescue operation but only found some empty rafts and vests and some driftwood.

In Algemeen Dagblad fishermen Wout Boelaars says he saw on the radar how the two vessels did not steer clear from each other but into each other. “The Corvus J was altering course to starboard while the Baltic Ace made a sharp turn to port.” According to him the collision is the result of a communication error.

Investigation

The Dutch police have announced they will not investigate the accident. “The accident happened outside the 12 mile zone, the so-called territorial waters, meaning we have no jurisdiction”, the police states on their website. “Another reason we will not investigate is that the vessels sail under flags of The Bahamas and Cyprus.” The Dutch police did direct the identification and salvaging of the victims.  The Dutch Safety Board, an independent investigative bureau, has offered both countries their help with the investigation. “By international law. Both countries are compelled to investigate the accident”, the Safety Board writes on their website.

gCaptain’s FULL Coverage: Baltic Ace Sinking

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