The Dutch Safety Board is investigating the loss of containers overboard of the vessel MSC Zoe. The Board is focussing on the consequences of the incident, the local situation in the Dutch Wadden area and the vessel’s sailing route.

Panama, the vessel’s flag country, is investigating the cause of the incident and the situation on board the vessel. There is collaboration between the different Boards.


Investigation publication

Safe container transport north of the Wadden Islands. Lessons learned following the loss of containers from MSC ZOE.

The Wadden area must be better protected against the loss of containers on the shipping routes that pass the islands to the north. Research by the Dutch Safety Board has revealed that the shipping routes above the Wadden Islands during northwestern storm form a risk for large, wide container ships. The Dutch Safety Board concludes that due to the value of the Wadden area, it is undesirable that these container ships choose the southern shipping route past the Wadden coast during a northwestern storm.


In the night of 1 to 2 January 2019, the MSC ZOE with more than 8,000 containers on board was travelling from Sines in Portugal to Bremerhaven in Germany. North of the Dutch Wadden Islands, the MSC ZOE found itself in severe weather. The ship lost 342 containers and three million kilograms of cargo fell into the sea. The cargo comprised a wide range of items and packaging materials that on the subsequent days washed ashore on the coastline of the Wadden Islands. This occurrence caused the Dutch Safety Board to initiate two investigations: a combined international investigation with Panama and Germany into the course of events of the accident and an investigation by the Dutch Safety Board itself into the risks on the shipping routes north of the Wadden area.

The investigation into the course of events has revealed that the MSC ZOE lost cargo at six locations. The extreme forces acting on the ship, the containers and the lashing systems as a result of specific conditions on this shipping route were the primary cause of the loss of containers.

Shipping route

Above the Wadden Islands there are two internationally designated shipping routes, a northern and a southern route. The investigation by the Dutch Safety Board has revealed that a combination of a number of phenomena means that on both the southern and northern shipping routes, there is a risk of loss of containers.

In storm-force northwesterly wind, vessels are confronted with high athwartships waves. As a consequence, large, wide container ships make extreme rolling movements. On the relatively shallow southern shipping route, there is also a risk of seabed contact (grounding) due to the combination of vertical and horizontal ship movements. Moreover, waves can slam against the ship, and seawater travelling at high speed along the side of the ship can be forced upwards against the containers. These phenomena, individually and in combination, cause extreme forces to act on the ship, the containers and the lashing systems used to retain the containers. As a consequence, containers can break free and be washed overboard.

The complete investigation report about shipping routes, the accompanying animation and the international report into the course of events are available.


Minimizing the risks of container loss on the two shipping routes north of the Wadden Islands requires an integrated approach by the parties involved: the container shipping sector, the IMO and the Dutch government. In the international investigation into the course of events of the accident with the MSC ZOE and this investigation into the risks on the shipping routes north of the Wadden Islands, recommendations are made to prevent container loss near the Wadden area. The recommendations of both studies must be considered in conjunction.

Recommendations shipping route report

To the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management

1. In collaboration with the Wadden states Germany and Denmark, take the initiative for a specific proposal to the IMO with measures for international container shipping to prevent the loss of containers on both shipping routes north of the Wadden Islands. This can for example take the form of a review of technical standards, the introduction of restrictions, recommended routes, precautionary areas, traffic control and/or information provision. Make particular use of the status of the Wadden Sea as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) and the possibilities within the IMO standards for taking measures to protect a PSSA. Make use of the outcomes of this investigation and other investigations into route-specific risks (also see recommendation 5).

To the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management

2. Inform shipping companies and masters of large container ships in a structural manner about the four hydrodynamic phenomena that emerged from this investigation, which can occur in the event of high beam seas on both shipping routes north of the Wadden Islands. In providing this information, also make it clear that these phenomena and combinations of these phenomena can generate forces on large, wide and stable container ships which can result in the loss of containers. If further route-specific risks emerge from other investigations, shipping companies and masters should also be immediately informed of those outcomes.

3. Grant the Netherlands Coastguard the tasks, authorities and resources it needs to monitor container ships so that ships can sail safely past the Wadden Islands in all wave and weather conditions. With this in mind, investigate the possibilities for traffic control of container ships, such as establishing a VTS area, actively disseminating warnings to shipping about prevailing weather and wave conditions in the Dutch part of the North Sea and innovating the way such information is provided. Involve the Netherlands Coastguard and Rijkswaterstaat in defining this role and responsibility. Also seek cooperation and/or harmonization with Germany on the intended tasks.

To the Maritime by Holland and the Royal Association of Netherlands Ship Owners (KVNR)

4. Actively communicate the lessons learned from this investigation and the international investigation into the course of events and in your national and international networks, take up a pioneering role in reaching agreement on and disseminating the principles and industry standards that promote the safety of container transport close to the Wadden area.

To the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management

5. Investigate the extent to which the route-specific risks of loss of containers on the shipping routes near the Wadden Islands as referred to in this report can occur on different types of container ships and in different meteorological and maritime conditions. In this investigation, include all incidents and other signals which could suggest other as yet unrecognized risks of loss of containers on the specific shipping routes.

6. Make a periodic risk analysis of the route-specific risks that can lead to container loss on the shipping routes close to the Wadden Islands, with a view to the safety of shipping and protection of the North Sea and the Wadden area, and include this analysis as a fixed element of North Sea policy. Under all circumstances, make use of a system of monitoring and analysis of shipping incidents and near misses on these shipping routes. Also include developments in shipping such as economies of scale, changes in the picture of shipping traffic and (future) changes to infrastructure and area activities on the North Sea.

Recommendations from the international investigation

The international report makes recommendations to the Panamanian, German and Dutch governments to review the technical requirements imposed on container ships in an IMO context. More specifically, this concerns:

  1. the design requirements for lashing systems and containers,
  2. the requirements for loading and stability of container ships,
  3. obligations with regard to instruments providing insight into roll motions and accelerations, and
  4. the technical possibilities for detecting container loss.

Recommendations are also made to the German and Dutch governments to investigate, in cooperation with Denmark, the need for additional measures on these shipping routes or adjustments to the routes and to submit a proposal to the IMO on the basis thereof. In addition, the shipping company of the MSC ZOE is instructed to explicitly draw the attention of crews sailing in this area to the route-specific risks, and to equip and load their ships in such a way that the loss of containers is prevented. Finally, through the World Shipping Council and the International Chamber of Shipping, the international maritime sector is called upon to actively communicate the safety lessons from the investigation and to take the lead in drafting safety requirements and in the innovation of ship design and container transport in order to minimize the risk of container loss, also in conditions such as near the Wadden area.



  • News

    Parties follow up on recommendations following loss of containers on North Sea

  • Press

    Vaarroutes ten noorden van Waddengebied zijn risicovol

  • Update

    Tussentijds rapport internationaal onderzoeksteam MSC Zoe

Investigation data

Theme Shipping

Investigation start date

Report publication date

Status Completed

Phase Publication