Since Wednesday, the burning cargo ship carrying around 3,800 cars has been bobbing off the Dutch coast. The fire is burning out, but an environmental catastrophe could still exist.
The fire on the car freighter “Fremantle Highway” sitting off the coast of the Dutch Island of Ameland, has subsided, according to the coast guard. A spokeswoman for the coast guard told the German Press Agency on Friday that the temperature of the fire had also dropped.
The Panamanian-flagged ship was on its way from Bremerhaven to Singapore when a fire broke out on Wednesday night. The crew was able to disembark, but one person perished.
In the meantime, the ship has drifted towards the west and is currently located north of the island of Terschelling.
Attached to the freighter is a salvage ship that rescue workers had connected to the Fremantle Highway on Wednesday. The tugboat can hold the burning ship to some extent, but the salvage ship cannot tow the plagued 200-meter-long freight ship.
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While the Dutch Coast Guard had previously assumed that the freighter had loaded 2,857 cars, there is now talk of it being 3,783. At least 25 were electric cars, and one is said to have started the fire.
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The situation has been stable since Thursday, but the specialists cannot do much more than wait. Extinguishing the fire was not yet possible at all due to the inaccessibility of the fires inside the boat’s fuselage and the risk of the ship’s capsizing.
Throughout the day, technicians established that the temperature on the ship had dropped substantially, and the bursts of flames coming out of the deck had waned. Yet many toxic fumes and billowing smoke came from the steel shoebox.
According to Kim Detloff, responsible for marine conservation at the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (Nabu), there are currently three options for the emergency services: they can let the ship burn and hope that the fire will weaken, NDR Info reported.
Secondly, the freighter could be towed to an emergency port; firefighting crews would go on board if necessary.
Finally, the ship can be left to run aground if it sinks. Attempts are being made to tow it further out to sea and remove it from the Wadden Sea to gain time.
Last dramatic hours
The fragment from the radio traffic, published by the Dutch TV channel RTL, gives an impression of the dramatic last hours of the crew on board.
The 23 men, most of them from India, were trapped. They had no way to get to the lifeboats, the rescue workers said by radio. Around 2:15 a.m., the crew was supposed to leave the ship. Three lifeboats were now at the spot.
It was agreed with the coast guard and the captain that the men should jump overboard– about 30 It was agreed with the coast guard and the captain that the men should jump overboard—about 30 meters into the depths below.
Seven people jumped and were rescued, but many were injured in doing so. One man did not survive the evacuation and died on a lifeboat. The remaining 16 crew members were later taken to safety by helicopter, the German Press Agency (DPA) reported.
‘An oil spill that endangers the entire ecosystem’
Should the ship capsize or break apart, there is a risk of an oil spill. “Then large amounts of oil could end up in the North Sea and lead to an oil spill that endangers the entire ecosystem,” warned Greenpeace marine biologist Thilo Maack.
Contamination threatens the Wadden Sea region in particular. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to thousands of animal and plant species and a resting area for millions of migratory birds.
The Japanese shipping company Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha, which owns the Panamanian-flagged ship, has now confirmed that the management of the vessel was carried out by the company Wallem Ship Management.
The shipping company already had a spectacular accident in 2021. At that time, their container ship “Ever Given” ran aground in the Suez Canal in March of that year. The ship blocked essential transport for days and contributed to problems in global supply chains.