Trial begins of captain and two pilots of ship that hit Hamburg bridge

The trial has begun of three men on a ship that collided with a power line in Hamburg in January 2020.

The captain and two pilots were in charge of a three-part towing convoy that had loaded an excavator. Its 63-metre-high boom collided with a 110-kilovolt high-voltage line stretched across the water just before the Rethe Bascule bridge, a combined rail and road connection that crosses the Rethe River at its confluence with the Reiherstieg River. The collision severed six cables and caused power to go out in the Wilhelmsburg area for several hours.

Power grid company Stromnetz Hamburg sued those responsible and the owner of the towing convoy for damages before a civil chamber of the district court, asking for €368,000. The criminal investigation began on Monday.

The defendants were reported to have previously rejected a penalty order, which would have ended the proceedings without a hearing.

The public prosecutor accuses the trio of failing collectively on January 7th 2020 when they allegedly neglected to check the overall height of the excavator with its boom before they started the journey.

The captain, now 79 years old, said that he occasionally took on trips as a pensioner, because otherwise he did not have enough to live on. His papers were in order.

Two pilots were with the captain. All three reserved “information on the matter” for a later date.

The task was to bring a crawler excavator from the Reiherstieg to Blankenese. The prosecution accuses the captain of not checking the height of the excavator, and the two sea pilots of not keeping a careful lookout for the high-voltage lines during the voyage.

The boom of the crane hit the power lines east of the Rethe Bascule bridge shortly after noon, cutting six of the eight cables. The prosecution said that traditionally large crane booms would be lowered to a 30 degree angle for such transports, so that they can easily pass through all passages in the port. The maximum headroom of overhead lines in the port, which according to the judge depends on factors such as temperature, will be discussed in the course of the proceedings.

No-one was injured as a result of the accident. The severed lines fell, some into the water, others onto the deck, and this resulted in “arcing” that could have killed the three men. The damage to the overhead lines was put at about €600,000.

For a range of reasons, none of the accused do not see themselves as responsible. “Part of the main hearing will consist of clarifying who was responsible for what and who held which position,” said Judge Lehmann.