One person has died and four are missing from the crew of a cargo ship that sank after colliding with another vessel in the North Sea on Tuesday, German authorities said.
The Verity ran into a larger cargo ship, the Polesie, before sinking in the early hours of Tuesday, according to the German Central Command for Maritime Emergencies (CCME).
The ship had seven crew members on board, two of whom were rescued, while one was found dead and another four were still missing, German Sea Rescue Society (DGzRS) spokesman Christian Stipeldey said.
Several ships and helicopters were involved in a rescue operation into Tuesday afternoon to find the missing crew members.
Robby Renner, head of the CCME, said it was possible they were still inside the ship.
“If so, there may be a chance — and I stress it is only a chance — that they are trapped in the ship’s hull,” he said.
A diving operation was launched in the waters where the Verity sank, which are around 30 metres (98 feet) deep, Renner said.
But divers were “unable to gain any information” before the search was suspended due to strong currents, the CCME said.
Conditions were “very difficult” around the shipwreck with visibility of only one to two metres, it said.
The temperature of the water was around 12 degrees Celsius (54 Farenheit), according to Michael Ippich, a director of the DGzRS.
If the missing crew members were in the water, it would be possible for them to survive for around 20 hours depending on their physical condition and what equipment they had, he said.
“We will not stop the search and rescue operation as long as there is still a small chance of finding survivors,” said Stipeldey, the DGzRS spokesman.
Two rescue cruisers, an emergency tug, a pilot boat, a police patrol boat and helicopters were also helping with the search, according to the CCME.
“The emergency services are doing everything they can to rescue the missing people,” German Transport Minister Volker Wissing said in a statement.
The accident occurred about 22 kilometres (13 miles) southwest of the island of Helgoland, according to the CCME.
The Verity, owned by the British company Faversham, sails under a British flag and was on its way from Bremen to the UK town of Immingham, carrying steel according to Renner.
The ship is 91 metres long, while the Polesie is much bigger at 190 metres, according to the CCME.
The Polesie was still afloat with its 22-person crew on board, the agency said.
‘Relatively challenging conditions’
The rescue operation was taking place amid “relatively challenging weather conditions”, according to Stipeldey.
The CCME reported winds of six on the Beaufort scale, corresponding to speeds of around 40 to 50 km/h (25-30 mph), and waves reaching as high as three metres.
Environmental damage from the accident could not be ruled out, “be it from the fuel or the cargo”, Renner said.
The Polesie, owned by the Polish shipping company Polsteam, sails under a Bahamas flag and was travelling from Hamburg to La Coruna in Spain.
Krzysztof Gogol, a spokesman for Polsteam, said the 22 crew members were uninjured and in “good physical condition”.
Shortly after the collision, the Polesie began participating in the rescue operation, and “took on board one of the crew members of the Verity ship, a Filipino sailor”, Gogol said.
A P&O cruise ship that was in the area, the Iona, was also involved in the rescue operation.
Ippich, of the DGzRS, said both rescued crew members had been taken to hospital.
Collisions were the second-biggest cause of incidents involving cargo ships on the world’s oceans in 2022, according to insurer Allianz.
However, collisions rarely result in the loss of a boat. Around 38 cargo ships were critically damaged last year, of which only four were due to collisions.