March/April 1998                    112


An open letter to Herrn Ortwin Runde
Mayor of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg

View from Hamburg's Landungsbriicken (17kb)

View from Hamburg's Landungsbriicken

Sehr geehrter Herr Biirgermeister,

Certainly you would not be pleased to learn one early morning that one of the many freighters, calling at the port of Hamburg, had run aground off Schweinesand and scattered her cargo of 150 containers into the Elbe river: some of them drifting with the tidal current in both directions, others stranded on the banks between Blankenese and Gltickstadt, Cranz and Wischhafen, some burst asunder and their content floating ashore, others sinking to the bottom of this very busy waterway.

A disaster I definitely would not wish to happen to my treasured hometown.  But it did happen to the Islands where I am at home now, when on 26th March 1997 the 3000 ton Sietas built "Cita", being 16 km off course, hit a rock about 200 meters off the southerly shore of St. Mary's, the main island of the Isles of Scilly.  With helicopter assistance our lifeboat rescued the crew of eight Polish seamen.  The owners of the "Cita", a "P & I Club/Trampfahrt," Hamburg, Grosse Elbstrasse were operating the vessel under a flag of convenience.

Because of the environmental aftermath caused by the shipwreck and of their owners refusal to accept responsibility we have written to you on 24.09.97 assuming that the Mayor of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, one of the most important European ports, would affirm the principle that the polluter has to pay.  You chose to ignore our letter as also did the Hamburg MEP Mrs Randzio Plath thus exposing a disregard which unfortunately is becoming common with so-called "representatives of the people".

Of course we did not expect you or the Hamburg State to interfere in this special case - it was quite clear that it had to be a matter between our community, our Environmental Trust versus the shop-owner's insurance.  But the latter thought they found a loophole, not covered by the International Agreement for the Prevention of Sea-Pollution.

One would think that in a world where it is matter of course for every car owner to have a third party insurance the same should apply to ships.  As this seems not to be the case we sought your support, as s the absence of liability in such cases must be of concern to a port-town as well.  We did not even expect a personal answer.  A sympathetic and advisory response by one of the city's numerous Behorden with expertise in this problem would have been equally welcome.

However, the only reaction that reached our islands after a long silence was a rather impertinent note by the solicitors, ridiculously implying, the 2000 inhabitants of our islands had acquired riches by the ship's disaster.  It did not go down well with the Scillonians, who, though not having a special liking for the German Kaiser Wilhelm II are still remembering and appreciating his order to the German fleet in 1914, not to attack the islands' connection with the British mainland because of the help given 39 years before, when the Hamburg steamer "Schiller" had been shipwrecked close to the Island's lighthouse on Bishop Rock.

It looks as if there was at least a bit more courtesy in common practice in those days.

Yours sincerely,
Gunnar Schweer

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