Shipping firm MSC is under criminal investigation after more than 270 cargo containers fell off one of its ships and washed ashore. Most of the containers, some holding hazardous material, have not been located.
Swiss shipping line MSC said on Saturday it will bear the "full costs" of cleaning up debris from a container spill that washed up on Dutch and German shores.
More than 270 containers, some of them carrying hazardous material, fell off one of the world's largest container ships, the MSC Zoe, in rough weather on Wednesday near the German island of Borkum in the North Sea.
"The MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company would like to assure authorities and members of the public in the Netherlands and Germany that the company will pay the full costs of the cleanup," the Geneva-based company said in a statement.
"MSC will also ensure that the beaches of the Dutch and German coastlines are surveyed until all debris related to this incident has been cleared," it said.
So far only 35 containers, holding car parts, refrigerators, flat-screen TVs, toys and furniture, have been located, most of them on the Dutch islands of Terschelling, Ameland and Vlieland.
"Those responsible (MSC) will be held liable," Dutch Water Management Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen wrote in a letter to parliament. "Several containers of hazardous materials were onboard. It is unclear how many fell off," she said.
A 25-kilogram (55 pound) bag containing highly flammable organic peroxide powder has already been recovered on the Dutch island of Schiermonnikoog.
Dutch authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the incident. Prosecutors told Reuters news agency that a joint investigation with Maritime Police would focus on "whether the damage caused is the result of criminal acts," possibly in violation of anti-pollution laws for seagoing vessels.
"It will consider whether we can hold someone — and if so who — responsible for the pollution," they said.
In the wake of the incident, Germany is pushing to make it compulsory for shipping containers, especially those holding dangerous goods, to be fitted with tracking devices, Norbert Brackmann, the country's maritime business coordinator, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper.
But he added that it could take several years before the 170 members of the International Maritime Organization agree on such a step.
Germany's Green party has been demanding that hazardous chemicals be banned from seas altogether.
ap/amp (AFP, Reuters)