Germany Begins Negligent Homicide Investigation into Fatal Collision

search operation in North Sea
After scouring the North Sea. the German teams ended the search for the msising crewmembers last night (photos courtesy of Die Seenotretter - DGzRS)

Published Oct 25, 2023 2:04 PM by The Maritime Executive


German authorities have begun investigating charges of negligent homicide and endangering shipping traffic in the wake of yesterday’s collision between a bulker and a smaller cargo ship off the coast of Helgoland and near Bremerhaven. The investigations began as the search effort ended with the commanders reporting there was no hope of finding the four missing crewmembers of the Verity (3,400 dwt UK-registered cargo ship). 

The four missing crewmembers are likely to have been trapped inside the vessel as it sunk immediately after the collision with the Polesie (38,100 dwt Bahamas-registered bulker). One of the crewmembers was reportedly recovered by the Polesie which began searching the area shortly after the collision. A second crewmember was also recovered and the two individuals are in hospitals in Germany with non-life-threatening injuries. The body of one other crewmember was later recovered near the scene of the collision.

Divers made two attempts on Tuesday afternoon to reach the Verity, which they determined was lying at a depth of 100 feet. The vessel is reported to be intact, but because of strong currents in the area, they were unable to gain any information. They saw no indications that the crewmembers were still alive trapped on the ship.

The search operation on the surface was suspended around 10:30 p.m. on October 24 with the German authorities reporting they had covered the entire target area. With the use of multiple vessels and helicopters, they scoured the North Sea but reported that conditions had again begun to deteriorate into the evening and night. Winds were again at 25 to 30 mph and the seas were running 6.5 to 10 feet with rain showers in the area. They said there were no plans to resume the surface search on Wednesday.

This morning, remotely operated robot vehicles were sent down to the vessel and again encountered the strong currents. They reported that visibility is limited to between three and six feet. While they were able to film the bridge of the Verity, they found no additional information. Teams are reportedly still reviewing the footage.


German rescue teams took a picture of the bow of the Polesie while still in the North Sea at the accident scene (copyright Die Seenotretter - DGzRS)


The operation has now turned to an investigation led by the Hamburg public prosecutor’s office and the Federal Police. In addition, the Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation (BSU) has begun a formal investigation. In addition, the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Bureau reported as part of its agreement with the Isle of Man Ship Registry, it has begun an investigation.  The BSU and MAIB will be working jointly.

The Polesie arrived in Cuxhaven, Germany around 4:00 a.m. this morning and docked. German media published pictures showing damage to the bow of the vessel and scrape marks along the starboard bow. Media reports are saying that the crew is likely to be disembarked in Cuxhaven and interviewed. 

Authorities are also concerned because there are reports that the Verity has around 1,300 cubic meters of diesel fuel aboard. They are assuming the fuel is leaking, and media reports said fuel bubbles “the size of tennis balls” have begun to surface. The head of the German Central Command said they believe at least 90 liters have leaked, and they are investigating if it would be possible to pump the fuel off the hulk.

Investigators are looking for the factors that contributed to the collision, while commentators are noting the rarity of collisions of this nature even in a busy shipping lane such as the separation scheme in the German Bight. The French news agency AFP is quoting insurer Allianz which highlighted that despite 38 cargo ships being critically damaged in 2022, only four were due to collisions.