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Germany’s water police are investigating what they believe may be the first case in which a working merchant ship underway struck a North Sea wind farm. The captain of the vessel according to the police has so far not explained how his vessel received a hole the “size of a barn door” forward on the starboard side of the ship.
The general cargo ship Petra L. (1,685 dwt) is registered in Antigua and Barbuda for a German owner which is listed as MP Shipping of Hamburg in the Equasis database. The 39-year-old vessel departed Szczecin, Poland on April 22 loaded with 1,500 tons of gain bound for Antwerp. Three days later early on the morning of April 25, she arrived in Emden, Germany, and port authorities noticed the gapping hole and reported it to the police.
Media reports said the water police were initially investigating the incident on the theory that the vessel had hit a floating object. Police reports are saying that the hole measures approximately 10 feet by 16 feet (3 meters by 5 meters) penetrating the hull. They reported that there were three officers and three crewmembers working aboard the vessel. None of them were injured.
German authorities made inquiries with the wind farm operators and said that Ørsted which operates the Gode Wind site approximately 25 miles off the German coast in the North Sea reported that its sensors at the wind farm had not detected any issues. However, on Wednesday morning a further survey of the wind farm, which has been operating since 2017 and consists of 97 turbines located in two sections, was undertaken by helicopter. Ørsted reportedly then confirmed to the German authorities that the visual survey detected “a small amount of damage,” in the field. The reports did not provide details.
A review of the vessel’s data and AIS position shows that it was miles off course according to the German authorities. They are speculating that the ship was on autopilot and for unknown reasons drifted or deviated from its course. The data is reported to show that the vessel also slowed speed dramatically before altering course. Weather conditions were good in the North Sea which they believe is why the vessel was able to proceed to port without reporting the incident.
The Russian captain of the vessel is promising a full statement after speaking with lawyers. Currently, the German authorities are reporting that he is facing charges for failing to report a maritime accident. Additional charges could be added pending the outcome of the investigation.
They are citing this as the first instance of a vessel underway striking a wind farm. Three years ago, a support vessel servicing another wind farm in the North Sea struck one of the towers and injured three people aboard the vessel. In that instance, investigators blamed the captain for being distracted, not maintaining a proper lookout, and deviating from the normal course used while servicing the Riffgrund wind farm which is located approximately 28 miles from shore.
Dutch authorities also reported an accident during a North Sea storm that caused a cargo ship at anchor to drift into an under-construction wind farm striking and damaging one of the foundations. An urgent salvage operation needed to be mounted to save the vessel before it drifted on shore during the storm.
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