Tiny pink and purple ponies, flat screen televisions and thousands of lightbulbs were littered across a ten-kilometre-wide stretch of sand on Terschelling on Wednesday morning, washed ashore after the containers carrying them were knocked off the MSC Zoe by high winds and waves.
On Thursday morning, volunteers gathered on the beaches of Terschelling, Vlieland, Ameland, as well as areas along the northern coastline of the mainland, to clean up the items that washed ashore from the overboard containers, at least 21 of which have wound up on Dutch soil so far. Omrop Fryslan reports that the seal rescue centre in Pieterburen will help coordinate clean-up efforts between Holwerd and Lauwersoog.
Cleaning up the items, especially plastic packaging and Styrofoam, as quickly as possible is crucial to keep it from being pulled far out to sea by the currents. Styrofoam littered the inland side of the sea dike in the Frisian town of Moddergat, which is especially pernicious in the environment in the long term because it quickly breaks down into tiny pieces which get stuck in the soil and waterways.
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Bert Wassink, the mayor of Terschelling, told Omrop Fryslan that the containers were “disastrous” for the islands and that the region could still be dealing with the aftermath for months to come. Representatives on behalf of the islands wrote a formal letter to the company operating the ship, MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company, stating that they would hold the company financially responsible for the damage to their coastlines.
Items that washed ashore included toys, car parts, electronics, furniture, and sandals. The container ship can carry up to 19,000 twenty foot equivalent unit containers and reportedly had 25 containers of organic powder dioxide, which is a hazardous material typically used in manufacturing plastic. The Leeuwarder Courant reports that there are two forms of the material: one which ignites above 50 degrees, and another which is polluting and can cause injury in contact with skin. It is unclear which kind was on the ship.
Hundreds of people took to the beaches of the islands on Wednesday with Land Rovers and trailers to try and salvage any items that were not completely ruined by exposure to salt water. Dutch salvage law dictates that all items that wash ashore on Dutch soil must be turned over to the police or the strandvonder, a local official who is responsible for the beaches. The mayor is the strandvonder in most municipalities with coastlines. However, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook were full of posts from beach combers showing off the items they had taken home.
Protocol also dictates that the islands are technically supposed to wait to clean up the debris until the shipping company formally asks them to do so, but Vlieland mayor Tineke Schokker told the Leeuwarder Courant that the whole island would be covered with trash if they did not start cleaning it up straight away.
In the shallow waters of the Wadden Sea, several ferry services were delayed because they had to swerve in their carefully defined lanes to avoid debris in the water: hundreds of folding wooden chairs were fished out of the Wadden Sea on Wednesday evening.
The latest figure for the number of containers which were knocked overboard is 270, many of which are still in the North Sea. Salvage companies are racing to bring them on land before they sink or spread their contents at sea, eventually winding up in a floating garbage belt between Spitsbergen and Nova Zembla. MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company is using ships with sonar to find the missing containers. The company has issued a statement saying that they are taking the accident very seriously, both in terms of environmental impact and financial loses for the companies whose goods were rendered worthless.
The MSC Zoe arrived in the harbour in Bremen late last night, where the damage to the container ship, which is one of the largest in the world, will be evaluated and a final count will be made of which containers are missing. The ship embarked from Sines in Portugal on the 30th of December, and hundreds of containers crashed into the sea due to rough conditions in the waters north of the German island of Borkum on Tuesday night: winds were up to force 8 on the Beaufort scale and waves were five metres high.
Photo source: @jacobaj_ts/Instagram