Capsized ship drains last of its acid cargo into the Rhine | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 12.02.2011
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Capsized ship drains last of its acid cargo into the Rhine

The last of a ship's acid load was drained into the Rhine river this week marking the end of a process plagued by delays. Preparations are in place to move the ship to the nearest port on Sunday.

The stranded Waldorf ship

Cranes are preparing to salvage the stranded ship.

The last of the acid from a capsized ship near the famous "Loreley" on the Rhine River was drained on Thursday in spite of numerous technical difficulties.

The "Waldhof" tanker capsized last month carrying over 2,000 tons of sulphuric acid. Authorities had chosen to gradually drain the acid into the Rhine in a procedure which was considered the safest option.

Minor technical problems threatened to postpone the final day of the draining process until Friday. But Andreas Bode, a spokesman for the rescue operation team in the town of St. Goarshausen, told Deutsche Welle that the release of the acid "went faster than anticipated."

Man taking a picture of the ship.

The ship is stranded on a narrow section of the Rhine

Authorities are now preparing to salvage the body of the 110 meter-long ship on Sunday.

Florian Krekel from the local shipping authority told Deutsche Welle on Wednesday that the salvage operation will begin at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning.

The salvage company will empty the ship's tanks of river water so the ship becomes buoyant. Cranes will then use the vessels ropes to turn it upright.

It will then be dragged closer to nearest port so it doesn’t continue to obstruct the narrow shipping lane. It is thought that the ship will ultimately be moved to the Netherlands.

Crew still missing

The Waldhof capsized near picturesque St. Goarshausen in Germany's western Rhineland-Palatinate state on January 13th. It is stranded near the fabled Loreley rock, which marks the narrowest part of the Rhine.

Two of the four crewmembers survived the accident; two other have not yet been found, despite rescue efforts.

The ship Waldorf on the Rhine.

Authorities say damage to the environment is minimal.

The recovery of the ship was initially hindered when an attempt to drain the acid into another boat failed.

When the ship threatened to break apart and release all its acid cargo into the river, it was decided that slowly releasing the acid would minimize environmental damage. Had all the acid been released at once, the surrounding ecosystem would have severely affected.

Gradually draining small amounts has meant that the river is able to dilute the acid's concentration of the acid and make it less harmful.

Lesser of two evils

Nevertheless, environmental groups have been keeping a close eye on the recovery process. Most agree that slowly draining the acid is the lesser of two evils.

Erwin Manz, a representative from the German Environmental and Nature Conservatory Association for the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, told Deutsche Welle that he is convinced that the recovery has been handled appropriately.

"We have the impression they are proceeding very carefully that they really tried for a long time to pump all the acid into another ship," he said.

"Obviously, no one would want acid like this to be pumped into the river, but to prevent a situation which could be much worse, they must proceed in this way and we support that," he added.

Group of tourists looking at the tanker.

Vistors have been flocking to St. Goarshausen.

The accident has drawn a lot of attention from the German press, and tourists have been flocking to St. Goarshausen to see the ship.

Monika Hofman, who runs a post office overlooking the Rhine, told Deutsche Welle that although the accident happened almost a month ago, the number of visitors to the town is still very high.

"Many people are coming every day, it's becoming a tourist attraction in itself," she said.

Slow process

The recovery process is soon to enter its second month. But Florian Krekel from the local shipping authority asserted that it has been necessary to proceed with caution.

"We needed a lot of time to open the tanks to get access to the load, to be sure about the conditions of the load and to decide how to handle it," he said.

Author: Charlotte Chelsom-Pill, St. Goarshausen, (DPA, AP)

Editor: Kyle James

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