North Sea Ship Crash: Search Called Off

North Sea Ship Crash: Search Called Off

The Dutch Coastguard has called off a search for six crew still missing after their cargo ship collided with another vessel and sank in the North Sea.

Five bodies have so far been recovered but officials said there was "zero" chance of finding survivors in the icy waters.

"We have now stopped and we will not begin again tomorrow," Coastguard spokesman Peter Westenberg said.

The Dutch defence ministry said the North Sea was treacherous when the 485ft (148m) Baltic Ace collided with the 440ft (134m) container ship Corvus J near busy shipping lanes, some 40 miles off the coast of the southern Netherlands.

However, Panagiootis Kakoliris, operations manager at Stamco Ship Management Co Ltd, which managed the Baltic Ace, said the conditions were normal at the time of the collision.

"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," he said.

Baltic Ace, which was heading from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge to Kotka in Finland with a crew of 24, sank shortly after the collision in 15 minutes.

The 23,500 tonne ship was carrying more than 1,400 new cars, most of them Mitsubishis, from Japan and Thailand.

Corvus J was on its way from Grangemouth in Scotland to Antwerp, Belgium, and was also damaged but assisted in the search for the missing crew of the sunken ship immediately afterwards.

Earlier, a massive air and sea rescue operation involving several helicopters, planes and two navy patrol ships recovered another body from the waters, bringing the confirmed death toll to five.

The Dutch Coastguard said it had given up any real hope of recovering any more survivors.

"Given the water temperature and the amount of time that's passed, we don't have any hope for more survivors," said Westenberg.

It is thought some of the crew  - from Poland, Bulgaria, Ukraine and the Philippines - may have gone down with the stricken vessel.

The other 13 crew members were rescued from the Baltic Ace despite strong winds and waves of up to 9.8ft (3m) hampering the operation.

Four were flown to a hospital in Rotterdam, seven taken by rescue helicopter to a hospital in Belgium and two were being treated on board a ship that found them.

Coastguard spokesman Marcel Oldenburger said they were "all in shock" and suffering from hypothermia, but their lives were not in danger.

Eleven crew members on board the Baltic Ace were Polish, according to Janusz Wolosz, second secretary at the Polish Embassy in The Hague.

The foreign ministry in Sofia said one Bulgarian national had been aboard the Baltic Ace but was among the 13 rescued sailors and was in good health.

The Philippines and Ukrainian embassies could not say how many of their nationals had been aboard.

The Dutch marine gendarmerie has launched a probe to determine the cause of the collision, and the police are in talks with the state prosecutor's office about whether it falls part of their jurisdiction.

"This incident took place out of our territorial waters," said Jos Klaren, a spokesman for the Dutch police.

The shipping lane where the accident happened is one of the busiest in the North Sea and an important passing point for ships sailing into Rotterdam port, Europe's largest and the fifth-largest in the world.