The Baltic Ace, managed by Stamco Ship Management, was being chartered by UECC and on route between the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium and the port of Kotka in Finland when it collided with the Corvus J, 30 nautical miles from Rotterdam, Europe’s busiest port at 18.15 local time last Wednesday night (5th December). The container ship was on route from Grangemouth port in the UK to Antwerp in Belgium.
The strength of the collision meant the Baltic Ace sank within 15 minutes with just more than 1,400 (mostly Mitsubishi) vehicles on board. The Corvus J was able to proceed to the port of Vlissingen for repairs after assisting in the search for survivors.
According to the coastguard 13 of the 24-strong crew of the Baltic Ace were rescued from life-rafts by helicopters and passing ships. The confirmed dead comprised two Poles, two Filipinos and an Ukranian. It is thought the remaining six members of the crew were unlikely to have survived because of the adverse conditions of the North Sea on the night of the incident.
The cause of the collision is not yet known but an investigation has now begun by authorities from Cyprus and the Bahamas – the countries in which the ships were registered – as the collision took place outside of Dutch territorial waters. The Baltic Ace sailed under the Bahamian flag, while the Corvus J was registered in Cyprus.
In an interview with Reuters Panagiootis Kakoliris, operations manager at Stamco Ship Management, said he thought human error was “most probably” to blame for the collision.
United European Car Carriers (UECC) was chartering the vessel for transport of the vehicles from its main operator Euro Marine Logistics for a planned 17-day period to carry the vehicles from Zeebrugge to Kotka. The Mitsubishi vehicles were a mix of models made in Japan, Thailand and the US, on route to the Russian market.
Euro Marine Logistics is a joint venture project between Mitsui OSK Lines and Höegh Autoliners.
According to UECC the charter started on 26th November but UECC is not involved in the navigation or rescue operations related to the incident.
In a statement UECC’s CEO, Craig Jasienski, expressed condolences on behalf of the company.
“Our deepest sympathy goes to families and loved ones of the deceased and missing crew members and the surviving crew,” said Jasienski. “Our thoughts are also with the owners and managers of the vessel for this terrible incident.
He went on to state that UECC was cooperating with its customers to coordinate matters relating to the 1,417 new vehicles that were lost along with the vessel.
The eventual salvage operation and wreck removal will be the responsibility of the vessel owners.
For its part Mitsubishi also expressed its own sympathy for the loss of life.
“Whilst MMC is not responsible for the shipping operations for its vehicles, we are nonetheless deeply sorry for the tragic loss of lives amongst the crew members of the Baltic Ace,” said the company in an official statement.
The company went onto state that it was in the process of assessing the impact on its Russia distributor and dealers and would be endeavoring to limit the delay on deliveries to its Russian customers.
“All costs will be covered by our insurance company,” said a spokesperson for Mitsubishi.
Mitsubishi exports to Europe stood at 13,004 units in October, 4.3% up year on year.