After nearly a week of delays due to poor weather conditions, salvage ships have finally begun operations in the North Sea to bring the containers from the MSC Zoe to the surface. But the World Wide Fund for Nature has expressed concerns about the damage the containers may have already caused to recently established oyster beds.
Translation by Traci White
Dagblad van het Noorden reports that the salvage ships have been hoisting the extremely heavy containers out of the water since Monday. The arduous operation to remove the 260 remaining containers are expected to take 75 working days. The Coast Guard does not expect to find most of the container in good condition: “They fell about 30 meters, and striking the water from that height is akin to heating concrete”, says Sjaco Pas.
Ships equipped with sonar have helped to localise around 240 containers in a 2,500 square kilometre search area above Terschelling and Ameland. In total, 281 containers fell overboard from the MSC Zoe overnight on the 1st of January, and the ship itself returned to use on the 16th of January after a thorough inspection in the Bremen port.
Salvaging all of the debris from the accident will be extremely difficult, and the Coast Guard and Dutch Water Management Department are already expressing doubts about whether the Swiss shipping company MSC can ultimately guarantee that all of the material will be removed from the sea. Even the mostly intact containers will be tricky: they need to be in a relatively upright position for the cranes on board the salvage boats to get a good grip. Much of the debris will be sorted by the ATR Fishery in Harlingen.
The World Wide Fund for Nature is also extremely concerned about the damage the containers may have done to oyster beds that were created in the area in 2018. It is not yet clear if the containers struck the oyster bed.
Dagblad van het Noorden reports that around 30 percent of the Dutch portion of the North Sea floor used to be covered with oyster beds, which served as a food source for other sea life. Oyster beds play a crucial role in the biodiversity of the area and provide a basis for more species of fish, better water quality and better protection of the coastline.
There are a number of protected areas in the North Sea, but the WWF says that it remains very limited and is calling for more dedicated space for natural renewal and preservation.