Deadly fire burning on car transport ship off Netherlands

Deadly fire burning on car transport ship off Netherlands

A fire was burning aboard a boat carrying cars off the Netherlands
A fire was burning aboard a boat carrying cars off the Netherlands. Photo: Handout / Netherlands Coastguards/AFP
Source: AFP

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Authorities were battling Wednesday a deadly blaze raging aboard a car carrier ship off the Netherlands, sparking fears of ecological damage to a fragile nearby island chain.

The cargo aboard the vessel includes electric vehicles and a coastguard official told Dutch media that authorities were looking into whether the fire had started with one of them.

Rescue personnel received a call shortly after midnight (2200 GMT Tuesday) saying a fire had started on the Fremantle Highway, a Panamanian-registered ship with 3,000 vehicles on board, about 14.5 nautical miles off the northern Dutch island of Ameland.

"All 23 crew members have... been evacuated off the ship" with the use of helicopters and a boat, the Dutch coastguard said on its website.

"The crew tried to put out the fire themselves, but failed. Unfortunately one person died and several others were injured," it added.

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At least seven crew members jumped overboard and were rescued from the water, while the rest were airlifted by helicopter.

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The Fremantle Highway is an 18,500-tonne car carrier ship and was sailing between Bremerhaven in Germany and Port Said in Egypt when the blaze broke out, according to the marinetraffic.com website.

"The blaze is still raging on board," the coastguard said in a later update, adding that the ship was listing.

The Fremantle Highway is currently close to Ameland, one of four ecologically sensitive Frisian islands, situated in the Waddensee area just north of the Dutch mainland.

Environmental risk

Also called the Frisian Islands, the area has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a rich diversity of more than 10,000 aquatic and terrestrial species.

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This included more than 140 species of fish of which some 20 spent their entire life in the tidal areas along the islands' famous mud flats.

The area also has a large seal and porpoise population.

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

Salvage vessels were on the scene trying to put out the blaze and prevent the ship from sinking, the NOS national broadcaster said.

Specialised firefighters were called from Rotterdam, who would be taken to the ship by helicopter. But the fire developed so quickly that it was no longer safe to bring those firefighters on board.

A tug vessel has however managed to attach a cable to the stricken ship to prevent it from drifting and blocking an important sailing route into Germany, the NOS said.

"We are taking into account all scenarios," a coastguard official told the NOS.

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The possible cause of the fire was an electric vehicle, one of some 25 on board, the official said.

The injured sailors were taken to the northern towns of Lauwersoog and Eelde and left in the care of paramedics there.

"They all suffered from breathing problems, but none are in serious danger," a safety official of the Drenthe region told AFP.

"Currently several parties including salvagers and the Dutch authorities are looking at minimising the damage as much as possible," the Coast Guard said.

Some 340 containers tumbled off one of the world's largest container ships after a storm in the same area in early 2019, littering kilometres of pristine coastline with plastic and polystyrene.

The most serious incident in recent times off the busy Dutch coast happened in December 2012 when the Bahamian-flagged car carrier Baltic Ice collided with a container ship and sank.

Eleven sailors were killed in that incident.

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Source: AFP

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