Wednesday, December 8, 2010, as usual, the DN31 dredge is busy to level the bottom in front of the Berendrecht lock. In the sluice, the Crystal Topaz tanker prepares to come out of it with the assistance of a pilot. 9:20 pm, the door opens and the tanker set out towards the river.
For some unknown reason the tanker quickly faces the working boat which due to his towed hoe is unable to move laterally. 9:30 pm collision time. The hull of the dredge is deeply perforated on the port side by the bulb of the Topaz Crystal and under the force of the impact the DN31 capsize instantly.
Despite the huge gap, the dredge remains floating; apparently the watertight bulkheads are not affected.
Immediately the alert is launched and help is organized.
Antwerp firefighters diving rescue team arrive quickly followed by a helicopter equipped with a thermal camera.
In effect, three men do part of the crew of this ship. Did they fell in the water, or instead remained in the wreck, for the time being, no one knows what they have become. Apparently, no signal is heard on the hull, bad sign. To be sure, a dive has to be made to attempt entering the wheelhouse where maybe an air pocket can exist. On-site, firefighter’s divers are not very motivated to do this dive because in this part of the Scheldt, the current is important and the visibility is zero. Luckily for them, from the beginning of the alert, the BDC assistance is also requested to help the rescuers and at 23:00 a team of their divers is also on-site. Immediately Thierry our most experienced man proposes to do the dive.
The task is not that simple cause every diver knows that it is not easy to find his way in a wreck that is unknown, while saying in wreckage floating upside down. Mind, our diver, one of the best currently on the market manages despite difficult conditions to enter the room. There, after some research he comes across the body of one of the crew members and bring him back immediately to the surface. Unfortunately, it is already too late; the guy will not be revived. Without losing time Thierry goes back to another compartment from the wreckage where there is still a slim hope of finding the two others sailors, but arriving at the door of it he discovers that she is locked and cannot open it enough to enter. In the water, the tidal current becomes increasingly strong. Diving becomes this dangerous that the team leader decides to interrupt it. Unable to do anything more on the spot, the authorities decide to tow the floating wreckage to one of the docks in order to implement the Security pending the lifting equipment.
Very quickly, the technical decisions are made. The RAMBIS will make the turn over and the lift. But the lifting pontoon is currently in Holland and it will take a few hours before his arrival on the spot. In the meantime, our divers can already install the messengers under the wreck who will later be used to pull the huge slings of steels.
The RAMBIS Arrives the following night. Immediately the crew starts works.
As the dredge still lay upside down, a turnover is necessary in order to pump the water out.
Everything is now ready. The turnaround may begin. Six minutes later, the dredge has regained its normal position and the compartments can be emptied of their waters.
Unfortunately, for families, inside those no trace of the poor sailors.
For us, the rescue is completed. It remains only to retrieve the container filled with equipment that lies somewhere in the middle of the Scheldt.
As for the dredging unit, she was send on a shipyard in the Netherlands for repair.
Photos : FH / NICO / BDC / Internet