Army helps Dutch island clean-up after ship spills cargo

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Netherlands' army soldiers helped clean-up the coastline of Schiermonnikoog in the Dutch Frisian Island

Netherlands' army soldiers helped clean-up the coastline of Schiermonnikoog in the Dutch Frisian Island (AFP Photo/Remko de Waal)

The Hague (AFP) - The Dutch military joined beach clean-up efforts on Friday, two days after some 270 shipping containers tumbled from one of the world's biggest cargo boats into the North Sea in stormy weather.

A hundred soldiers landed at dawn on the island of Schiermonnikoog, off the Dutch north coast, where a closed bag of a dangerous powder was discovered washed up on Thursday.

The powder was identified by authorities as "organic peroxide", a highly flammable substance used in making plastics.

Objects, including plastics and polystyrene, are continuing to come ashore on Dutch beaches with local residents helping in the clean-up operation.

"On various Wadden islands, plastics and other objects were once again stranded," tweeted the security services of Friesland, the region on which the archipelago depends.

The Panama-registered MSC Zoe, which was mostly carrying toys, furniture and auto parts, lost the containers late on Tuesday while battling a storm off the Frisian Islands, an archipelago off the northwestern Dutch coast also known as the Wadden Islands.

The Dutch public ministry in a statement announced that prosecutors have opened an inquiry into the incident to determine "if the damage caused was the result of punishable acts" under the law and also who was responsible.

So far, around 30 containers have been located in The Netherlands and Germany.

Coastguards said three containers that had been transporting organic peroxide on the MSC Zoe have not been located and are thought to have sunk.

"Every day of the year, we make efforts to keep the beaches clean. It is depressing to see that everything is ruined at once," said Bert Wassink, mayor of Terschelling Island, close to Schiermonnikoog.

Small pieces of polystyrene being strewn across sand dunes by the wind were a "disaster", said resident Siep Wobbes, quoted by the NRC newspaper.

The mayors of several Wadden Islands wrote a letter to shipping firm MSC Mediterranean Shipping, saying it was responsible for the "beach pollution".

They are demanding reimbursement for the costs incurred, said Tineke Schokker, Vlieland Island mayor, on the TV show Jinek.

MSC Mediterranean Shipping said it was working in collaboration with local authorities and several salvage companies to clean-up the affected German and Dutch waters and beaches.

While claiming confidentiality in not disclosing details of the cargo, MCS said in a statement that "in relation to some reports from authorities about dangerous cargo, we would like to inform the public that we are not aware at this time of any public injury from the cargo in MSC-carried containers spilled overboard."