One killed as cargo ship carrying 3,000 cars burns off Dutch coast

Fremantle Highway, Fremantle Highway,

A blaze that has erupted on a cargo ship carrying nearly 3,000 vehicles off the Dutch coast has claimed a crewmember’s life, as the coastguard warns the flames could continue for several days.

The fire, which began on Tuesday night (25 July 2023), is raging about the 199-metre Fremantle Highway, a Panama-registered vehicle carrier built in 2013.

The remaining 22 crew members have been evacuated from the vessel, but there are several injuries, including burns and broken bones. It’s reported some of the crew attempted to tackle the fire themselves before jumping 30 metres into the sea to escape the flames.

“One by one, they jumped and we had to fish them out of the water,” the captain of the Ameland lifeboat, Willard Molenaar, told Dutch public broadcaster NOS. “They were really desperate so they had to jump — you don’t just do that for the sake of it.”

Fremantle Highway departed the port of Bremerhaven in Germany, and was en route to Egypt when it caught fire. It has been towed out of shipping lanes and is currently close to Ameland, one of four ecologically sensitive Frisian islands in an archipelago just north of the Dutch mainland, in the Waddensee area.

The ship’s owner has confirmed it is likely that an electric car in the cargo was the cause of the fire.

In a statement, Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd says: “We are now trying to extinguish the fire in cooperation with the local authorities of [the] Netherlands, the salvor and the ship management company.”

NOS, the Japanese firm says there is “a good chance” that the fire started with electric cars. It’s understood around 25 electric vehicles were on board. “But we are not entirely sure of the cause, we are waiting for the investigation,” it adds.

Firefighting ships are spraying water onto the Fremantle Highway, although are trying to avoid overloading the vessel with water and causing it to sink. A salvage vessel has been connected to the ship to prevent drifting, the coastguard reports.

Fremantle Highway

Speaking to AFP, a coastguard official says: “The ship is being cooled to keep it stable. Only the side of the ship is being sprayed, not the deck.” They add: “The fire could still burn for days.”

The Waddensee area has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site and has a rich diversity of more than 10,000 aquatic and terrestrial species.

Should the Fremantle Highway sink, “it would be a disaster of the highest order,” the daily tabloid De Telegraaf said.

Fires on car-carrying ships are increasingly the source of major losses, insurers say. In 2022, the Felicity Ace sank off the coast of the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean with some 4,000 vehicles on board.

Spotlight Job

Technical key account manager

Welwyn Garden City (hybrid)

Specialty chemicals company Sika is looking for a technical key account manager to drive business growth and foster strong relationships with key accounts within the marine sector.

Full job description »

Comments are closed.

This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

Skip to content