The captain of TUI Cruises’ Mein Schiff 4 is facing a serious investigation after the ship reportedly navigated through a restricted area in the Fehmarn Belt, a waterway separating the German island of Fehrman and the Danish island of Lolland.
The incident could have significant repercussions, including criminal negligence charges against the captain and the ship’s first officer. While guests did not notice anything of the incident, the risks were significant, with Mein Schiff 4 sailing in close proximity to an operational dredging ship.
On September 5, the 99,526 gross tons German cruise ship Mein Schiff 4, operated by TUI Cruises, entered a restricted zone around 10 PM local time.
The cruise ship was en route from Kiel, Germany, to Gdynia, Poland. According to local police reports, the vessel sailed directly through an area reserved for the dredging vessel Manta, which is currently involved in constructing a Baltic Sea tunnel between Germany and Denmark.
The ship came dangerously close to the dredging crew, closing in to within approximately 150 meters. A safety radius of 926 meters applies around the dredging vessel.
This close call could have ended much worse than it did. Besides the potential risks of sailing too near to a dredging ship, which often has submerged equipment that could prove hazardous, the crew of the dredging vessel was forced to release its anchor chains to prevent a direct accident.
“Recognizing the immediate threat, the crew of the dredger released their anchor chains, allowing the cruise ship to pass safely,” said a police spokesperson.
The incident led to local authorities initiating criminal proceedings against the captain and the first officer for allegedly negligently endangering maritime traffic. According to criminal law provisions, a conviction could result in a fine and up to two years in prison.
In the aftermath, officials boarded the Mein Schiff 4 in Kiel for further questioning. “The primary focus of the investigation is to reconstruct the ship’s route to ascertain whether there was any deviation from the planned course,” stated a police report.
While the investigation continues to unfold around the Mein Schiff 4 incident, it raises questions about how it happened. Cruise ships have advanced GPS systems that offer real-time tracking and navigational assistance.
Additionally, vessels must register with traffic control centers, such as the one in Travemünde for the Fehmarnbelt. These centers monitor sea routes and provide essential details like weather conditions, restricted areas, and other maritime hazards.
Areas like construction zones for the tunnel between Denmark and Germany are generally marked by buoys emitting signals. Captains receive real-time updates about these restricted areas and are expected to divert the ship’s course to avoid them.
According to the traffic control center in Travemünde, which monitors the Fehmarnbelt, Mein Schiff 4 has confirmed its familiarity with the area, including the restricted zones.
The ongoing investigation will likely scrutinize why these standard safety protocols did not prevent the Mein Schiff 4 from sailing into a restricted zone, which could have far-reaching consequences for the Captain and First Officer.
Mein Schiff 4 is a cruise ship operated by TUI Cruises, a partnership between TUI and the Royal Caribbean Group. The cruise line currently operates six cruise ships, Mein Schiff 1 through Mein Schiff 6, with Mein Schiff 7 currently under construction in Finland.
Another new cruise ship, Mein Schiff 8, is under construction at the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy. Both new vessels are expected to set sail in 2024.
Mein Schiff 8 will be the first LNG-fuelled ship and the largest ship for the company at 161,000 gross tons. A second LNG-powered cruise ship, Mein Schiff 9, is expected to launch in 2026.
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