AMSTERDAM – Rescuers gave up hope of finding any more survivors from a cargo ship that sank in the frigid North Sea off the Dutch coast, saying today they are searching for the bodies of the seven crewmen still missing. That brings the presumed death toll to 11.
High winds and rough seas hindered the search Wednesday night, and it was called off shortly after 2 a.m. Search planes, helicopters and ships were heading to the area to resume the search this morning, but the icy conditions made survival virtually impossible.
Four bodies were found Wednesday, and 13 survivors were rescued.
The 148-meter (485-foot) Baltic Ace sank after colliding with the 134-meter (440-foot) container ship Corvus J in darkness near busy shipping lanes some 65 kilometers (40 miles) off the coast of the southern Netherlands coast. The cause of the collision is not known.
The Dutch waterways agency said it had sent a vessel to the site to guide other shipping in the busy region around the sunken wreck and use sonar equipment to establish exactly how deep and where the Baltic Ace was lying on the seabed. The agency said it is in contact with the ship’s owner about possible salvage operations.
The Baltic Ace, carrying a cargo of cars, sank quickly as its crew of 24 tried to abandon ship.
It was manned by a crew of Bulgarians, Poles, Ukrainians and Filipinos; but identities of victims, survivors and presumed victims have not been released. Four of the survivors were flown to a hospital in Rotterdam and seven to a military hospital in Belgium. All are expected to recover. The location of the other two survivors was unclear.
Janusz Wolosz, an official with Poland’s embassy in The Hague, said that two Polish crew members have been confirmed dead, three are missing and six crew, including the Polish captain, are recovering in hospital after being rescued.
“They were all well-qualified for their jobs,” said Mariusz Lenckowski, of the agency that employed the Polish seamen.
The Baltic Ace, sailing under a Bahamas flag, was heading from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge to Kotka in Finland, and the Cyprus-registered Corvus J was on its way from Grangemouth in Scotland to Antwerp, Belgium. The Corvus J was badly damaged but not in danger of sinking. Its 12-man crew was unharmed and assisted in the search Wednesday, but today began heading toward Antwerp for repairs.
Sandra Groenendal of the Dutch Safety Board said responsibility for investigating the crash lies with the states under whose flags the ships were sailing – the Bahamas and Cyprus – because the collision happened outside Dutch territorial waters. However, she added, it was possible those states would seek Dutch assistance.
The safety board later said in a statement it has offered its assistance in the investigation.