Lower Saxony’s Environment Minister on container ships in the North Sea

Minister Lies, the wrecked Mumbai Maersk was towed free on Friday night. How do you rate the fact that a 400 meter long ship makes a turn six kilometers from Wangerooge and then gets stuck in the shallow water next to the fairway?

Reinhard Bingener

Political correspondent for Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Bremen based in Hanover.

This is completely inexplicable to me. The search for the cause of the accident is currently being carried out intensively, i.e. whether it was a technical defect or a driver’s error on board.

Cargo ships have grown rapidly in recent years. The Mumbai Maersk holds more than 20,000 containers. Do the applicable safety rules reflect this development?

No, especially since extreme weather conditions are becoming more frequent alongside larger ships. The securing of the load must therefore be checked more carefully. And the big ships have to be tested on how they can cope with their tall container towers in heavy seas. In the case of dangerous goods containers in particular, there is an urgent need for tracking options and better information. It’s all technically feasible and doesn’t cost the earth. We in Lower Saxony have been calling for these improvements together with the other coastal states for a long time. Nevertheless, the Federal Ministry of Transport under Andreas Scheuer did not react. My impression was that as a CSU politician, he wasn’t really interested. For years, Germany has been pursuing a “just got lucky again” policy instead of preparing better.

Olaf Lies (SPD) is Lower Saxony's Minister for the Environment, Energy, Building and Climate Protection.

Olaf Lies (SPD) is Lower Saxony’s Minister for the Environment, Energy, Building and Climate Protection.

Image: dpa

Is it true that Germany and Denmark have objected to keeping ships further from shore, as suggested by an authority in the Netherlands?

That’s the way it is, and here, too, I’m counting on the fact that the new Federal Minister of Transport, Volker Wissing, from the FDP, will take a different course than his predecessor. We have to make the use of the offshore route mandatory, which doesn’t cost the shipowners a lot of money either. The Dutch were willing to make such a commitment, but Germany has not so far. Incidentally, in the current case we were lucky that the Mumbai Maersk used the offshore route on a voluntary basis, for which I am grateful. Imagine what would have happened if the ship had been wrecked on the inshore route and in last week’s storm surge.

The MSC Zoe lost 342 containers in its accident three years ago, and the cargo is still washing up on the North Sea beach. At that time, the reaction of the emergency command was criticized. How satisfied are you with the responsiveness of this authority?

The mistakes in the accident of the MSC Zoe have been thoroughly worked up by the federal and state governments. At that time, the boarding team was not operational at all, and the tugs were unsuitable because they could not accommodate personnel in bad weather. These issues have been addressed. The CCME is operational and has now done a good job again with the Mumbai Maersk.

Do we need additional tugs that can be deployed more quickly?

This is a crucial point. When the Mumbai Maersk was salvaged, the powerful tug Nordic was not available because it had previously had a defect during another operation and is now docked. The call for tenders for the new tractors is also taking far too long for me. And we will still have too few even with these new tractors. As in other safety-relevant areas, we need an “N+1” solution, i.e. all the necessary tow tractors plus one as a replacement. This additional tug costs a lot of money, but the potential damage in the event of an accident is many times higher.


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