Dutch Safety Board calls for stricter rules for ship transport of dangerous substances

Ship transporting containers on the Maas river
Ship transporting containers on the Maas riverPhoto: Alf van Beem / Wikimedia Commons

The inland transport of hazardous substances by ship needs more safety measures, the Dutch Safety Board concluded in its investigation into an accident in Grave in December 2016. Then a tanker carrying 2,000 tons of benzene crashed into the John. S. Thompson Bridge over the Maas river during foggy weather, ANP reports.

The Safety Board advices shortening sailing times or giving sailors shorter shifts. Public works department Rijkswaterstaat should also be authorized to stop shipping traffic in extreme weather. "The Safety Board is surprised that a ship loaded with 2,000 tons of benzene was allowed to sail in dense fog for fourteen hours without the sailor being relieved", the Safety Board said. 

The Dutch shipping information and tracking system is outdated and needs to be replaced, the Board said. And the new system must be equipped with an alarm function for incidents involving hazardous substances. Crisis management and assistance in regions' border areas must also be better organized, specifically to improve reaction to incidents in bad weather conditions, the Board said. 

The accident in Grave happened on December 29th, 2016 with a tanker sailing to Rotterdam via the Maas river. Due to dense fog, the sailer mainly navigated with the ship's radar system, which requires a huge amount of effort. After sailing for more than 13 hours, the ship crashed through a weir. An hour after the accident, emergency services were informed and Rijkswaterstaat reported that hazardous substances were involved.

"Partly due to the dense fog, the emergency services had great difficulty in overseeing the full extent of the incident", the Safety Board writes. The accident happened exactly on the border between two municipalities and three safety offices. According to the Safety Board, the parties involved were unable to form a joint picture of the situation and coordinate their actions. "It remained unclear until deep into the night whether the cargo benzene posed a danger and the crew was only evacuated after three hours."