UTRECHT – Two ships from Germany with a cargo on board in which an excessive concentration of phosphine gas was measured have been detained by the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) in the so-called refuge port of Tolkamer, near Lobith. The crew has been taken off board. The ships, which were loaded with grain, are isolated at a jetty, which is closed to the public.
Phosphine is added to loads so that vermin cannot reach them. Its use is under debate because people can become seriously ill by inhaling the gas that develops. The crew of the two ships in Tolkamer were examined and found to be healthy, the ILT said.
The ships in Tolkamer may only sail again once the owner of the ships has submitted an action plan to the ILT. That plan must state exactly how the movement of ships carrying phosphine can take place safely and with as few risks as possible. The ships must be able to degas somewhere, otherwise the cargo cannot be unloaded. Only if the ILT has approved will the ships be allowed to sail again, according to a spokeswoman.
The ILT sent a hazardous substances inspector to the port on Friday, after the captain of one of the ships reported on Thursday that he noticed a strange odor on his ship. The inspector determined that there was phosphine in the cargo holds and blocked both ships. It is not yet clear where the phosphine was added to the cargo. No official reports have been drawn up yet.
In 2021, three ships carrying wheat on their way to an animal feed company were detained when phosphine was found to be in the cargo holds. It then took more than a month before a place was found where the inland vessels could be degassed. Very strict measures were taken for this. Because the risks of phosphine gas are known, ship unloaders often carry a phosphine meter with them.