Baltic Ace shipwreck: Dutch coastguards call off search

Peter Verburg, Netherlands Coastguard: ''The chance that we will find people alive is virtually zero''

Dutch coastguards have called off a search and rescue operation after the sinking of the Baltic Ace cargo ship in the North Sea.

A fifth body was found earlier on Thursday and 13 people were rescued on Wednesday, but six more of the ship's 24-man crew remain missing following the collision with a container ship.

A spokesman said the chance of finding anyone alive was "virtually zero".

The accident took place off the coast of Belgium and the Netherlands.

The Baltic Ace had sailed from Zeebrugge in Belgium and was transporting Mitsubishi cars.

The search for the missing crew had resumed at dawn on Thursday. The coastguard said a helicopter crew saw the lifeless body of one man floating in the water.

Strong winds and high seas made search conditions difficult and by Thursday afternoon Dutch coastguard spokesman Peter Westenberg said the operation had stopped.

"We will not begin again tomorrow," Mr Westenberg said.

Three boats from the Royal Dutch Sea Rescue Organisation, two navy vessels, four helicopters and one coastguard aircraft had been used in the rescue operation.

The Polish embassy in the Netherlands has said that 11 of the 24 crew were from Poland. Six of them, including the captain, have been rescued.

The rest of the crew came from the Philippines, Ukraine and Bulgaria.

Life rafts found
Two Dutch coastguard vessels search for missing crew from the Baltic Ace Dutch coastguard vessels searched for the missing crew late into the night on Wednesday

The 148-metre (485-foot) Baltic Ace was sailing under a Bahamas flag and carrying cars from Zeebrugge to Kotka in Finland.

Its 24 crew abandoned ship as it sank quickly after colliding with the Cyprus-registered container ship, the Corvus J, sailing from Grangemouth in Scotland to the Belgian port of Antwerp.

The 134-metre Corvus J is said to be damaged but not in danger of sinking. All 12 crew members are still on board.

Panagiootis Kakoliris, operations manager at Stamco Ship Management, told the Reuters news agency that human error was to blame, but investigators say it is too early to say what caused the accident.

The shipping lane where the accident happened is one of the busiest in the North Sea, about 100km (60 miles) from Europe's busiest port, Rotterdam.

But a spokesman for the port said its activities would not be affected by the collision, which occurred at 18:15 GMT on Wednesday.

The last fatal accident off Dutch waters was in 1994, according to Zero-meridean.nl, a website that uses public information to track disasters and emergencies with links to the Netherlands.

All six crew on board a British fishing vessel, the Larissa, died following a collision with a Maltese-flagged tanker.

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