Crewmember Killed as Burning Car Carrier is Evacuated in the North Sea

Car carrier fire
Fremantle Highway is burning off the Dutch coast (Dutch Coastguard photos)

Published Jul 26, 2023 12:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

Dutch authorities are leading the response after a car carrier caught fire off the northern coast of The Netherlands around midnight on July 25. As the fire continued to spread, the decision was made to evacuate the ship. One crewmember was killed and several others injured at taken to hospitals in the Netherlands.

The vessel is the Fremantle Highway (18,549 dwt), operating under charter to Japan’s K Line. The vessel loaded 2,857 vehicles in Bremerhaven, Germany departing yesterday, July 25. It was bound for the Suez Canal with K Line reporting the ship was sailing to Singapore. Built in 2013, the ship is 656 feet long and registered in Panama.

The Dutch Coast Guard is saying it is too early to tell what caused the fire. They received a report from the ship around midnight. They are saying among the vehicles aboard there are 25 electric cars. Speculation is centered on one of the electric cars possibly having caught fire. The Dutch Coast Guard is pointing out that the presence of electric cars makes the fire more difficult to fight, and especially in an enclosed space like a ship. The crew attempted to fight the fire and when they were unsuccessful, they called for assistance. 



The majority of the crew were removed from the ship by helicopters. Media reports are saying that seven crewmembers however also jumped into the water and were rescued by one of the Dutch Coast Guard vessels. It is unclear how the one crewmember died with the Dutch emergency service reporting that the other injured crewmembers are being treated for breathing problems, burns, and broken bones. K Line in its statement said the crewmembers were all from India.

The Coast Guard reports that an emergency line was attached to the vessel to hold it in place while fire boats have been working to cool the ship. Pictures however show the fire spreading through the ship. The Coast Guard said it is impossible to board the vessel or to put the fire out, and instead all they can do is to cool the ship and wait for the fire to burn itself out. They are also concerned that the water being pumped on to the ship could cause stability problems. At the moment, they are reporting that the situation is stable.



The vessel’s owners, Shoei Kisen, have retained a salvage company that is working with the Dutch authorities. They are reportedly looking at various scenarios and considering if it would be possible to attach a towline to the burning vessel. The Dutch authorities are reporting that they have been able to prevent the ship from blocking the busy sea lane and that maritime traffic is moving normally. They however requested that news cameras and private planes not approach the vessel as it was hindering their operations.

A Dutch Coast Guard vessel used to handle oil spills has also been dispatched and is being placed on standby although so far there have been no reports of oil leaking from the ship. When asked by the news media, the Dutch authorities said they were considering the potential that the vessel will sink creating pollution in the popular tourist region in the Wadden Sea and the coastal islands of Germany and The Netherlands.