The ship that lost the containers, the MSC Zoe, arrived in the German port of Bremerhaven early Thursday. The ship, which had last called at Sines, Portugal, lost part of its cargo Wednesday in a storm off the northern coast of the Netherlands and Germany.
Germany's Central Command for Maritime Emergencies said authorities have established that three missing containers at most contained a dangerous substance, but none of them has been found yet. The substance in question is an organic peroxide, a flammable and highly toxic compound. On Thursday, authorities in the Netherlands said that one bag of peroxide had been washed ashore on Schiermonnikoog island.
German authorities said that most of the containers located so far were in Dutch waters. Special ships equipped with sonar were being used to search in the North Sea for sunken containers. The Dutch defense ministry said it was recalling soldiers from their Christmas leave to help clear up beaches on North Sea islands starting Friday, following requests from the mayors of Schiermonnikoog and nearby Terschelling island. It said about 100 soldiers will be deployed.
Officials in both countries have warned the public to stay away from the containers. The ship's operator, MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company, said it "takes this incident very seriously, both in terms of the impact of such accidents on the natural environment and in terms of any damage to customers' cargo."
It said it is collaborating with local authorities "in all aspects of the cleanup." Police in Bremerhaven were investigating the cause of the accident.