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Ship collision search called off


Ships taking part in a rescue operation for the sunken cargo ship Baltic Ace (AP/Royal Dutch Navy)

Ships taking part in a rescue operation for the sunken cargo ship Baltic Ace (AP/Royal Dutch Navy)

Ships taking part in a rescue operation for the sunken cargo ship Baltic Ace (AP/Royal Dutch Navy)

Rescuers have called off search efforts for six missing crewmen from a cargo ship that sank in the frigid North Sea off the Dutch coast.

The presumed death toll is 11 - taking into account the missing and five bodies found so far. Four bodies were found on Wednesday and 13 survivors were rescued. A fifth body was found and retrieved on Thursday by a Belgian government helicopter.

A day after the Baltic Ace capsized in international waters off the Netherlands' southern coast, search helicopters, planes and coast guard ships were called back to their bases amid icy conditions.

"Given the water temperature and the amount of time that's passed, we don't have any hope for more survivors," Peter Westenberg, of the Dutch coast guard, said. Mr Westenberg said passing ships were still being notified by radio to remain alert for possible human remains.

The 148-metre (485ft) Baltic Ace sank after colliding with the 134-metre (440ft) container ship Corvus J in darkness near busy shipping lanes some 65 kilometres (40 miles) off the coast of the southern Netherlands. The cause of the collision is not known.

The Dutch waterways agency said it has sent two vessels to the spot to help guide traffic and to lay buoys around the area of the sunken wreck. One is using sonar equipment to establish exactly how deep and where it lies on the seabed. The agency said it is in contact with the ship's owner about possible salvage operations. The Baltic Ace, carrying a cargo of cars, sank quickly as its crew of 24 tried to abandon ship.

Dutch police have identified the five victims whose bodies have been found as two Poles, aged 47 and 50; two Filipinos aged 30 and 51; and a 47-year-old Ukrainian. Four of the survivors were flown to a hospital in Rotterdam and seven to a military hospital in Belgium. All are expected to recover. The location of the other two survivors was unclear. Janusz Wolosz, an official with Poland's embassy in The Hague, said that in addition to the two Polish crew members who have been confirmed dead, three are missing and six crew, including the Polish captain, are recovering after being rescued. "They were all well-qualified for their jobs," said Mariusz Lenckowski, of the agency that employed the Polish seamen. He said the Baltic Ace was built in the Gdynia shipyard in Poland in 2007.

The Baltic Ace, sailing under a Bahamas flag, was heading from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge to Kotka in Finland, and the Cyprus-registered Corvus J was on its way from Grangemouth in Scotland to Antwerp, Belgium. Photos of the Corvus J published by the Coast Guard showed serious damage to its prow, but it was not considered in danger of sinking. Its 12-man crew was unharmed and had assisted in the search on Wednesday, but on Thursday it began heading towards Antwerp for repairs.

Sandra Groenendal, of the Dutch Safety Board, said responsibility for investigating the crash lies with the states under whose flags the ships were sailing - the Bahamas and Cyprus - because the collision happened outside Dutch territorial waters. However, she added it was possible those states would seek Dutch assistance. The safety board later said in a statement it has offered its assistance in the investigation.

The owner of the Baltic Ace, Ray Car Carriers Ltd, and its manager, STAMCO Ship Management Co Ltd, put out a statement of condolences to the families of the dead and missing crew, and said they will be offered support. Company representatives were not immediately available to answer questions about the cargo or how much fuel might still be aboard the wrecked vessel.