Blazing Cargo Ship Carries 3K Cars, Could Be Devastating

One crew member is dead as officials work to save the ship from going down in a bird habitat
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 26, 2023 2:00 PM CDT
Cargo Ship Carrying 3K Cars Is on Fire in the North Sea
Smoke and flames are seen on a freight ship in the North Sea, about 17 miles north of the Dutch island of Ameland, on Wednesday.   (Kustwacht Nederland/Netherlands Coastguard via AP)

A fire on a freight ship carrying nearly 3,000 cars was burning out of control Wednesday in the North Sea, and the Dutch coast guard said one crew member had died, others were hurt, and 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. The cause of the blaze wasn't immediately known, reports the AP, and it wasn't clear how the crew member died. Some of the crew members jumped off the ship's deck into the sea and were picked up by a lifeboat, the lifeboat's captain told Dutch broadcaster NOS. Some of the crew suffered broken bones, burns, and breathing problems and were taken to hospitals in the northern Netherlands, emergency services said.

"Currently there are a lot of vessels on scene to monitor the situation and to see how to get the fire under control," coast guard spokesperson Lea Versteeg said. "But it's all depending on weather and the damage to the vessel." Asked if it was possible the ship would sink, Versteeg said, "It's a scenario we're taking into account and we're preparing for all scenarios." By early afternoon, two ships were alongside the freighter hosing down its sides in an attempt to cool them, the coast guard said, but firefighters were still unable to attempt to extinguish flames on the ship, and smoke was billowing out of its hold. The Fremantle Highway was sailing from the German port of Bremerhaven to Port Said in Egypt when it caught fire about 17 miles north of the Dutch island of Ameland.

Its location is close to a chain of Dutch and German islands popular with tourists in the shallow Wadden Sea, a World Heritage-listed area described by UNESCO as "the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud flats in the world" and "one of the most important areas for migratory birds in the world." "It's carrying [2,857] cars, of which 25 are electrical cars, which made the fire even more difficult. It's not easy to keep that kind of fire under control," Versteeg said. The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management said that permission had been given to salvage the ship "as soon as that is possible." The ministry said that the busy North Sea shipping lanes remained accessible for other vessels.

(Read more cargo ships stories.)

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