Stuck Noah's Ark sparks international incident as Government urged to aid rescue
- Credit: Archant
The British Government is being urged to wade into an “extraordinary” international incident involving the replica of Noah’s Ark currently stuck on Ipswich Waterfront, we can reveal today.
This newspaper reported in April that the floating biblical museum which docked at Orwell Quay in November 2019 had in fact been detained there by the coastguard for almost its entire 18-month stay.
Now it has emerged in documents obtained via Freedom of Information laws that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) does not deem the Ark seaworthy. It also cannot sail under a Dutch flag despite being registered there, key certification is missing and, since April 1, the vessel has been accruing a fine of £500 a day.
The Ark’s owners want to leave but the coastguard will not allow it to so an “impossible stalemate” has been reached. It has led to wrangling between the British and Dutch authorities which has culminated in the transport secretary Grant Shapps being asked to intervene.
One option being floated is the UK Government making an exception and granting the 70m long vessel - a biblical museum - a single trip back to Holland.
A DfT spokesperson said: “We are aware of the situation and are in discussions with relevant agencies in the UK and the Netherlands. Safety remains the top priority."
Transport bosses added that officials are in discussions with the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and its Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate to try and resolve the outstanding issues so the Ark can safely return home.
Coastguard chiefs are adamant that it is not safe for the £2.6million attraction, owned by Dutch TV producer Aad Peters, to travel due to “serious concerns” about its condition.
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They said: “Noah’s Ark will remain detained until all the deficiencies have been put right and an MCA surveyor is invited back by the owners to check they’ve been corrected.”
The huge vessel stunned onlookers in November 2019 when it was towed into the marina for its first British visit. Yet shortly after arriving, the giant attraction was impounded in the dock by coastguard officers.
Its stay at Ipswich has proved expensive - racking up a bill of £12,132 for its detention as of January 2021 and £500 in daily fines since April 1, the date it was supposed to leave.
The detention report, seen by this newspaper, suggests the Ark arrived with legally-required load line certificates missing, no tonnage information, and a range of other concerns such as overdue services for fire equipment, life jackets and life crafts.
Its owners, who had planned to leave by March 31, said the Ark has always been categorised as a “non-certified floating object” not required to comply with international regulation. It has only left Holland on an “infrequent and exceptional basis” in the past.
They said the Ark is fully insured and has passed numerous inspections, and has previously been towed between European countries without the need for a certificate or registration with a flag state.
Concerns over fire and life-preserving equipment have been addressed with inspection certificates provided, they added, and all financial commitments have been met.
Under UK maritime laws, it is mandatory for ships longer than 24m to have certificates specifying the ‘load line’ - a marking indicating the hull of a ship and legal loading limit for different water types and temperatures.
The owners said in a statement: “The requirement to obtain full registration and the required certificates was and may not be achievable within the required timescales and would incur unreasonable costs and time delays to the vessel.
“Towage plans have now been made for the Ark to return to the Netherlands and the vessel is still awaiting towage approval to depart from the UK.
“Owners have been continuously seeking a means (of release) and (permittance) to be towed on a single voyage from the UK to the Netherlands, with an agreed towage plan.”
In emails shared with this newspaper, coastguard bosses wrote that they have “serious concerns” over the Ark’s condition, including its age (61 years old), and lack of information about its weight and stability.
MCA chiefs wrote: "We do have concerns about this vessel and we cannot rely on the grace of God that it can be safely towed to Holland."
Dutch authorities described the vessel as a “floating object” that could undertake a single international voyage in “exceptional circumstances”.
Shortly after we revealed the Ark was in fact stuck on the Waterfront, the transport secretary Grant Shapps was alerted to the problem by DfT officers and Ipswich’s MP Tom Hunt.
It came amid escalating tensions between Dutch and British authorities, with a former MP in Holland emailing an impassioned plea to civil servants, writing: “There is only one ark in the world, so let it go.”
According to one email exchange from within the Department for Transport (DfT) in mid-May, the Dutch Government is said to be lobbying the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office as well as the DfT’s international and EU directorates on the issue.
Mr Hunt said: “The last I heard, we’d hit a bit of a brick wall. It’s a very strange and unusual issue to crop up. We’re working with the Dutch authorities and are trying our best to get it back to Holland one way or another.”
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