Dramatic pictures capture rescuers plucking 13 survivors from freezing waters after North Sea ship collision… but hope fades for six crew still missing
The Baltic Ace car carrier sank after it collided with the Corvus J container ship off the coast of Rotterdam on Wednesday nightRescuers managed to lift 13 sailors to safety – six are still missingCoastguard is now reported to have called off the rescue operation
Five bodies have been recovered following the crash off the Dutch coastCause of the collision is under investigation, but the manager of the Baltic Ace said today that human error was 'probably' to blame
18:57 GMT, 6 December 2012
These infra-red pictures capture the dramatic scenes as 13 sailors were rescued from the icy waters of the North Sea after the Baltic Ace cargo ship collided with another vessel off the Dutch coast.
Six crew members remain unaccounted for in the wake of the disaster on Wednesday night – which has already seen five bodies pulled from the water – but the rescue mission was reported to have been called off after the Dutch Coastguard admitted the chances of finding anybody else alive were 'virtually zero'.
The manager of the 23,500 tonne Baltic Ace car carrier, which sank after crashing with the Corvus J container ship in treacherous conditions 50 nautical miles from Rotterdam, said today that human error was probably to blame for the 'violent' collision.
Rescue mission: This infra-red picture released by the Royal Netherlands Navy shows a rescued Baltic Ace crew member dangling from a helicopter as he is lifted to safety
The crash sent 1,400 new cars on board the Baltic Ace, mostly Mitsubishis from Japan and Thailand, plummeting to the seabed on Wednesday night.
The Dutch Defence Ministry said conditions were treacherous when the vessels collided, but Panagiootis Kakoliris, operations manager at Stamco Ship Management Co. Ltd, which managed the cargo ship, told Reuters conditions were normal when the Baltic Ace was lost.
The exact cause of the collision is under investigation.
Mr Kakoliris said technical failure was unlikely because the ship was just five years old, in very good condition, and had passed a safety inspection in August.
Icy waters: A rescue vessel and a fishing boat are seen taking part in the search for seamen from the sunken vessel, which was eventually called off today
Hindered: A helicopter is seen hovering above a fishing boat and a smaller rescue vessel taking part in the search and rescue mission, which was hampered by high winds and rough seas
Emergency: The Dutch coastguard launched a massive search and rescue operation after the Baltic Ace collided with the Corvus J container ship off the coast of Rotterdam
'We had a very violent collision which was the reason for the quick sinking of the vessel,' he said.
'It was most probably hit in the side and that's why water entered in huge quantities with this result.
'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.'
Mr Kakoliris did not say who he thought was responsible for the collision.
It was not known if the Polish captain, who was released from a hospital, had spoken to authorities about the collision 50 nautical miles from Rotterdam, Europe's largest port.
'Violent collision': Rescue workers can be seen on board this vessel scouring the waters of the North Sea for survivors
German shipping firm Juengerhans, the owners of the Corvus J, said in a statement that the 12 crew members on board the container ship were unharmed.
The vessel, which had been en route from Scotland to Antwerp, sustained damage and is currently at anchor, the firm said.
Juengerhans said only that the cause of the incident was still unknown.
Choppy conditions: Dutch marine rescue ships are seen in action during the search operation in the North Sea
Survivors: This aerial photograph taken from a helicopter shows a red life raft in the waters below near the spot where the Baltic Ace went down
Human cost: While 13 Baltic Ace crew members survived the disaster, six sailors are still missing
Fading hope: A Dutch search and rescue vessel speeds through the water towards the spot where the Baltic Ace sank after colliding with the Corvus J container ship
Limited visibility: The search resumed at dawn today after high winds forced rescuers to call it off overnight
'Near zero chance': The Coastguard, which has said the chances of finding any more sailors alive is 'virtually zero', called off the operation this afternoon and said the search would not resume
The Baltic Ace sank within 15 minutes after hitting the Corvus J. The wreck is now at a depth of about 25-30 metres near the Noord Hinder shipping route, one of the busiest in the world.
The 13 crew members rescued from the car carrier were taken to hospital for treatment.
The search, which was hindered by high winds and rough seas, was called off shortly after 2am on Thursday morning.
Peter Westenburg of the Dutch Coast
Guard said at the time: 'Given the water temperature and the amount of time that's
passed, we don't have any hope for more survivors.'
Rescuers resumed the operation at dawn today, but by this afternoon it was reported to have been called off for good.
Collision: Five members of the crew of the Baltic Ace have died after the vessel collided with a container ship in the North Sea. A further six are still missing (file picture)
The Corvus J was damaged but not in danger of sinking. It helped with the search operation yesterday but has now sailed away for repairs
Accident: The collision involving the two ships happened around 40 miles off the Dutch port of Rotterdam
The Baltic Ace, carrying a cargo of cars, had a crew of 24 which was forced to abandon ship as it sank quickly.
It was manned by a crew of Bulgarians, Poles, Ukrainians and Philippines, but identities of victims, survivors and presumed victims have not been released. Four of the survivors were flown to a hospital in Rotterdam and seven to a military hospital in Belgium. All are expected to recover.
The Baltic Ace, sailing under a Bahamas flag, was heading from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge to Kotka in Finland, and the Cyprus-registered Corvus J was on its way from Grangemouth in Scotland to Antwerp, Belgium.
The Corvus J was badly damaged but not in danger of sinking. Its 12-man crew was unharmed and had assisted in the search yesterday, but today began heading toward Antwerp for repairs.
Sandra Groenendal of the Dutch Safety Board said responsibility for investigating the crash lies with the states under whose flags the ships were sailing – the Bahamas and Cyprus – because the collision happened outside Dutch territorial waters.
However, she added it was possible those states would seek Dutch assistance.