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Why were people allowed to take items washed up on Dutch beaches?

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Flat-screen TVs and debris lie washed up on beach in Terschelling
Flat-screen TVs and debris lie washed up on beach in Terschelling -
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Erik Scheer via REUTERS
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One of the world's largest cargo ships lost part of its shipment after hitting bad weather in the North Sea on Wednesday.

Up to 270 containers fell off MSC Zoe as it sailed towards Germany. Some of those washed up on Dutch island beaches sparking interest from the public with some taking goods from the beach.

Items found on the shores of Terschelling and Vlieland included furniture, televisions, pink toys, shoes, bags.

But the removal of some of the goods from the beach prompted questions about the law.

There are also safety concerns after warnings that some of the containers could contain dangerous chemicals.

'Strandjutters'

Roelof van Dalen, journalist of Dagblad van het Noorden (Newspaper of the North) said that people who take items from a beach are called "strandjutters."

"The law about this says that in fact everything valuable on the beach must be reported by the mayor or the police.

"I am really sure no one does this in normal situations. It's kind of a 'grey' area."

Van Dalen adds that the responsibility of the beach lies with mayors. He said the mayor of Terschelling said the items from the cargo ship are now worthless.

"The TVs etcetera don't work, of course," van Dalen added.

Dutch Coastguard/Handout
The mega ship lost 270 containersDutch Coastguard/Handout

If the goods were valuable, van Dalen said the mayor would have had to make a list of everything found and put up a public notice so that the owners "can appeal for the goods."

The mayor has made it clear in local media that the containers can't be opened: "This is because there is a possibility the goods in the container are still in good condition and thus valuable, but more important: there are three containers that contain peroxide. It could be dangerous," Mayor Bert Wasskink said.

"We've never seen this before. It's becoming more common to see containers falling in the water but never before on this scale," Wasskink told Dutch broadcaster NOS.

Environmentalists have also raised concerns over the debris.

"This is truly a disaster. How are we going to clean this up?" environmentalist Cynthia Borras said. "We were prepared for an oil disaster but not this."

Dutch authorities later warned the public to stay away from beaches where affected by the cargo spill due to the risks associated with dangerous chemicals.

'Serious incident'

The Mediterranean Shipping Company, which owns MSC Zoe, the cargo ship involved, said it is treating the loss as a serious incident.

"MSC 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," MSC said.

The company added the ship continued to Bremerhaven in Germany following the incident. It appointed a salvage company to coordinate the cleanup efforts.