Barge Carrying Salt Sinks Causing Environmental Concerns for Hamburg

Hamburg Germany
Barge sunk while moored at the Kalikai terminal in Hamburg (Hafen Hamburg file photo)

Published Feb 6, 2024 4:38 PM by The Maritime Executive


The Port of Hamburg and emergency services are responding to the sinking of an inland barge this morning, February 6, while moored at one of the port’s terminals. Officials are reporting that there was no immediate environmental hazard but they are discussing the salvage of the vessel to prevent damage to the Elbe and surrounding area.

According to local media reports, the barge Alster was docked overnight at the Kalikai terminal. The vessel is approximately 263 feet (80 meters) long and was loaded with 1,400 tons of potassium chloride. The salt is commonly used in the production of fertilizer. The vessel also had 3,500 liters of diesel fuel aboard.

The terminal where the barge was moored is operated by K+S Transport as part of the group’s European manufacture of potash fertilizers and salt products. They report that around 500 sea and inland vessels are handled by the terminal annually along with four million tons of mineral fertilizer.

The media reports said the captain and a deckhand were asleep on the vessel and awoke around 5:00 a.m. local time to find the vessel listing. They called emergency services reporting the vessel was taking on water and escaped to the dock. An hour later, they watched as the vessel settled to the bottom of the Elbe. Medical teams attended to the two crewmembers reporting the captain was in shock.

Two fireboats responded as well as emergency service crews onshore. They placed a containment barrier but reported that a small amount of oil had leaked into the harbor. Around 5,000 square meters were contaminated. The fire service reported that the salt was not leaking.

Greenpeace however also went to the scene and was testing the water quality. They warned if the potassium chloride leaked it would raise the salinity of the Elbe. Greenpeace expressed concern that it could lead to osmotic shock in aquatic organisms in the Elbe.

The environmental authorities took over the scene as of Tuesday afternoon. They were in discussion with the Hamburg Port Authority and the owner of the vessel about salvage arrangements. The plan is to bring in a specialized firm to salvage the barge.