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Efforts Underway to Begin Towing Burning Fremantle Highway Car Carrier

Fremantle Highway car carrier fire
Fire has continued to come down in intensity making it possible to begin to tow the hulk (Dutch Coast Guard photos)

Published Jul 28, 2023 7:24 PM by The Maritime Executive

With the intensity of the fire aboard the car carrier Fremantle Highway continuing to dissipate, Dutch authorities announced late today that they are preparing to reposition the ship in the first of a series of steps that they anticipate will ultimately bring the wreck to a still to be determined port. As they were reporting progress with the fire aboard the ship, a new controversy is developing over the number of electric vehicles and total number of cars aboard the ship, leading to further speculation that EVs are a major contributing factor to the fire that has now burned for four days.

“Rijkswaterstaat and the salvage companies have now started preparations for towing the freighter to an area further east than its current position,” the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water announced shortly before midnight on July 28. They have been working closely with the Dutch Coast Guard and the private salvage company hired by the owners of the car carrier since the fire was reported shortly before midnight on July 25.

The timing of the movement of the hulk will depend on several factors, including the level of smoke coming from the ship and weather conditions. The goal is to bring the ship from its current position approximately 14 miles north of Terschelling to a new position approximately 10 miles north of Schiermonnikoog. It will be a move of about 35 miles to the east that they anticipate will take between 12 and 14 hours to complete.

 

 

Rijkswaterstaat consulting with the salvage team believes the move is possible because the Fremantle Highway while showing a list is stable and there are no signs of damage below the waterline. They believe the vessel is not in danger of heeling over at this time, but as a precaution, their oil recovery ship Arca continues to stand by and will accompany the tow.

Once the vessel has been repositioned, they will consider further steps. The goal is to continue to move it from the new temporary position and they expect it will soon be possible to tow the ship to a port.

These developments came as they reported that while the fire is still burning aboard the Fremantle Highway it continues to dissipate. Measurements of the temperature on board the ship showed that it dropped sharply during the day and the level of smoke continues to decline. They reported similar findings yesterday after stopping the cooling efforts. They have however said that they were waiting for the fire to burn itself out.

As the intensity of the fire dissipated today, the salvage team was able to briefly place four of its members aboard the vessel. They were taken to the Fremantle Highway aboard the Multrasalvor 4 and only remains aboard for a short period. While they were aboard, they were able to secure a stronger towline strung the Coast Guard reports from the top of the ship and now attached to the Fairplay 30. The earlier line they had previously said was only capable of being used to hold the vessel in position and was strung from a connection lower on the hull.

The new strong connection will aid in the next phase of the efforts. They are currently using it to hold the vessel in position outside the busy shipping lanes. However, it will also be able to support the planned towing operation.

 

 

The authorities continue to caution that the origin of the fire is unknown, but today a spokesperson for the vessel’s charter operator K Line of Japan revised earlier reports about the number of vehicles aboard the ship. The Coast Guard using the available manifests said at the beginning of the incident it believed there were 2,857 cars of which only 25 were electric vehicles.

Both Reuters and Associated Press are quoting a spokesperson for K Line, Pat Adamson, saying the accurate number is 3,783 vehicles. They are saying the number includes 498 battery-electric vehicles. 

Previously, both Mercedes and BMW confirmed that they had vehicles aboard the vessel. It is unknown what quantity of vehicles or if they were gasoline or electric. The ship was reportedly carrying both new vehicles and secondhand cars. The AIS signal shows that it was bound for Port Suez while K Line said the destination was to have been Singapore.