Fatal North Sea ship collision said to be human error
Human error was probably to blame for a collision that killed five crew and sank the Baltic Ace car carrier, its Greek manager said, and Dutch rescuers said it was unlikely six missing seamen would be found alive.
The Dutch Defence Ministry said conditions were treacherous when the Corvus J container ship and the Baltic Ace collided, sending 1,400 new cars, mostly Mitsubishis from Japan and Thailand, to the seabed.
But Panagiootis Kakoliris, operations manager at Stamco Ship Management Co., Ltd. which managed the Baltic Ace, told Reuters sea conditions were normal when the 23,500-ton ship was lost.
The exact cause of the crash is under investigation. Kakoliris said technical failure was extremely unlikely because the ship was just five years old, in very good condition and had passed a safety inspection in August.
"We had a very violent collision which was the reason for the quick sinking of the vessel," Kakoliris said. "It was most probably hit in the side and that's why water entered in huge quantities with this result."
"You cannot control some things. This happened in good weather, normal weather. There was good visibility, so I feel most probably there was a human error," Kakoliris said. He did not say who he thought was responsible for the collision.
It was not known if the Polish captain, who was released from a hospital, had spoken to authorities about the collision 50 nautical miles from Rotterdam, Europe's largest port.
The owners of the Corvus J, German shipping firm Juengerhans, did not discuss responsibility for the collision in a statement published on its Website.
"The cause of the incident is as yet unknown. Juengerhans will offer its full cooperation into the investigation which has been started by Dutch authorities," it said.
The car carrier, built in 2007, sank in 15 minutes. The wreck is now at a depth of about 25-30 meters near the Noord Hinder shipping route, one of the busiest in the world.
Dutch marine police were determining whether the collision took place inside Dutch territory or international waters and what jurisdiction the investigation falls under.
The Dutch coastguard said freezing cold and gale force winds meant there was only a slim chance of finding the Baltic Ace's missing crew. Its sailors were from Ukraine, Bulgaria, the Philippines and Poland.
The coastguard said 13 of the 24 crew were rescued on Wednesday, but snow and three-metre-high waves made the search difficult. Survivors scrambled into four life rafts and were winched to safety by helicopters, or picked up by nearby ships.
Karen Gelijns, a spokeswoman for the Dutch Defence Ministry, said "it was a wild night, there were force 6 winds, very rough seas, and it was snowing."
Gelijns said the ship sank so quickly "nobody would have had time to put on protective clothing".
Shipping Traffic Unaffected
The Baltic Ace was en route from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Kotka in Finland, while the Corvus J was going from Grangemouth in Scotland to Antwerp, Belgium.
Officials said the Corvus J was damaged and resumed its route to Belgium. No delays were caused to shipping traffic in Dutch waters, where about 250,000 vessels pass each year.
"It is very busy route," said Edwin de Feijter, a spokesman for Rijkswaterstaat, the North Sea Directorate whose responsibilities include the shipping lanes in the Dutch part of the North Sea.
"The ship sank near the route, not in the route. We have the ship ARCA regulating traffic and another ship will set up signs in the water later in the day."
The Baltic Ace was managed by Stamco Ship Management Co. Ltd., based in Piraeus, Greece, and owned by Isle of Man-based Ray Car Carriers.
Insurance Insider said the loss caps a difficult year for the marine insurance sector, which is reeling from a $1.16 billion claims burden from the cruise ship Costa Concordia, a major deterioration on 2011's Rena containership loss, a record number of pooled protection and indemnity claims, and $2 billion to $3 billion in losses from Hurricane Sandy.
Salvage firm SMIT, owned by Dutch group Royal Boskalis Westminster, said it was too early to say whether the Baltic Ace could be salvaged. (Reuters)