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A Dutch coast guard photo of the fire onboard the cargo ship carrying almost 3000 cars.
04 Aug 2023

Cargo ship with 3700 cars still burning almost a week later - now safely towed to Port Eemshaven

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UPDATED August 4:

More than a week after the fire on a cargo ship carrying almost 4,000 cars in the North Sea, the  damaged ship was towed into port in the north-east of the Netherlands, reports the BBC. 

The ship had left Bremerhaven in Germany en route for Egypt when fire started on July 25. Of the total of 3,783 cars on board the ship, 498 were electric vehicles, which was 20 times more than the 25 EVs allegedly reported initially. 

The fire burned aboard the 200m-long Panamanian-registered Fremantle Highway for almost a week. The fire started on an upper deck. Salvage experts claim that four of the ship's decks were relatively undamaged - however: the eighth deck had partly collapsed due to the intensity of the fire.

The extensive damage to the ship raised fears that if might sink and lead to an environmental disaster in the waters of the Wadden Sea, designated a World Heritage site on the edge of the North Sea.

The decision was made by the Dutch government to tow the ship 64km (40-miles) from a position north of the island of Schiermonnikoog, to the nearest harbour, which was Eemshaven.

Allegedly the remains of the ship arrived safely with the fire already extinguished on August 3. 

 

UPDATED August 2: 

The burning cargo ship which caught fire at sea on July 25 near the Dutch coast was still burning three days later. The ship reportedly carried nearly 500 electric vehicles which is more than was initially reported.  

Rescuers on Friday July 28 were finally able to board a cargo ship packed with vehicles. The ship caught fire off the Dutch coast three days earlier and  authorities said the fire still pose a risk to nearby natural sites, though by then less intense, reports EuroNews.com.  

An electric car lithium-ion battery is suspected the be the cause of the deadly fire. Officials said that nearly 500 electric vehicles were onboard, which far more than the 25 EVs initially reported.

The fire broke out on the cargo ship Fremantle Highway late on Tuesday July 25, killing one crew member and requiring a massive extinguishing effort. 

 

According to CBSNews, the Dutch coast guard said Thursday that the cause of the fire was unclear and that only about 25 of the vehicles on the ship were EVs, however in the audio of an emergency call released by Dutch broadcaster RTL, someone can be heard saying "the fire started in the battery of an electric car." 

According to an unnamed K Line spokesperson in Tokyo quoted by Reuters, there were 3,783 vehicles on the  Freemantle Highway, including 498 EVs. The spokesperson did not give Reuters any information about the brands of the vehicles on the ship. 

The coast guard said it was working to save the vessel from sinking close to an important habitat for migratory birds. Boats and helicopters were used to get the 23 crew members off the ship after they tried unsuccessfully to put out the fire. 

 

Original post from July 26:

A fire on a cargo ship carrying almost 3,000 cars off the coast of the Dutch island of Ameland has left one crew member dead and 22 other crew members injured on Tuesday evening, reports the BBC and several other international media. 

Reportedly, some of the crew jumped 30m (100ft) into the sea to escape the fire onboard. Members of the crew initially tried to extinguish themselves, but were unsuccessful and were eventually forced to flee.

AP News reports that the freight ship was carrying nearly 3,000 cars was burning out of control Wednesday in the North Sea, killing one crew member and injuring others, citing the Dutch coast guard.

The agency said it was working to save the vessel from sinking close to an important habitat for migratory birds.

Boats and helicopters were used to get the 23 crew members off the ship after they tried unsuccessfully to put out the blaze, the coast guard said in a statement. The cause of the fire onboard wasn’t immediately known, and it wasn’t clear how the crew member died.

Reportedly the cargo vessel was carrying 2,857 cars, including 25 electric cars, which made firefighting efforts more difficult.

Dutch news site AD.nl reports that extinguishing was difficult because the firefighters could not  get on board.Efforts were instead focused on external extinguishing and attempts to try to prevent the ship from sinking.

The site also reports that "the fire may have been started by an EV onboard". 

Sky News cites a source in the Dutch Coast guard, pointing towards an EV having started the fire:

"The ship, the Fremantle Highway, is a vehicle carrier that was transporting nearly 3,000 cars, 25 of them electric, from the German port of Bremen to Port Said in Egypt.... An electric car was the suspected source of the blaze, a coast guard spokesperson said".

 

According to the local news site Wâldnet, the skipper was advised to evacuate the ship completely at around 02:13 am, July 22. 

Due to the size of the fire, it was decided not to put firefighters on board. According to the Coast Guard, it is difficult to get a fire under control at sea, especially since no one can board the ship. Furthermore, 'everything is done' to ensure that fuel, for example, does not end up in the sea.

The fire may continue for days, as well as the possibility of salvaging it. The Coast Guard points to previous fires on cargo ships that lasted a long time, such as in 2021 off Sri Lanka and last year off the Azores.

 

Second large ship fire involving vehicles in a year

Last year, a cargo ship carrying 4,000 luxury cars caught fire and sank off the Azores Islands. According to investigations, lithium-ion batteries in the EV onboard cars caught fire on board the Felicity Ace.

Although water allegedly was found to be ineffective in putting out the fire, firefighters eventually brought it under control before the ship went down and sank while being towed.

 

Photo Credit: All photos by the Dutch Coast Guard.