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Fremantle Highway Fire Lessens as Vessel Continues to Drift off Dutch Coast

Fremantle Highway car carrier fire
A tow line is being used to hold the burning vessel about 10 miles offshore and out of the shipping lanes (Dutch Coast Guard)

Published Jul 27, 2023 7:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

Dutch authorities report that the situation is stable as the car carrier Fremantle Highway continues to burn. As of late on Thursday, they are reporting that it appears that the fire might be lessening in intensity but they can only wait until the fire dies down and it becomes safe to board the ship to start a salvage operation. The fire, which began around midnight on July 25, is expected to burn for days.

The vessel continues to drift along the Dutch coast with a line attached in an effort to keep it from interfering with the busy sea lanes in the North Sea. The ship drifted westward during the day but back toward the east later with the Dutch Coast Guard saying they were monitoring the current and wind direction to determine the most favorable drift direction. Later in the day, a stronger tow line was strung from the tugboat Fairplay 30 to the Fremantle Highway.

While the fire is still raging on the vessel, the Coast Guard also reports that the decision was made to suspend cooling efforts are the intensity of the fire diminished. The vessel is already showing a list and concerns are growing over the stability of the vessel. 

 

 

“We are working with all our might to prevent the ship from sinking,” Rijkswaterstaat, the Dutch water authority, said in its update. “We also are doing our utmost to limit the damage to people and the environment, as much as possible.”

The water authority’s oil recovery vessel Arca continues to stand by near the wreck in case of a fuel release. Dutch and German coastal authorities are also preparing for different scenarios including a release of contamination or the possibility that the vessel will sink. Environmental groups are highlighting the dangers to sensitive areas as well as popular tourist destinations along the North Sea coast. The current position is approximately 10 miles north of Terschelling in The Netherlands.

 

 

A salvage team continues to stand by the vessel and is analyzing the exterior and pictures as they work to formulate potential plans. The images released by the Dutch Coast Guard show blistering and peeling paint at multiple places along the sides of the vessel with smoking continuing to pour out of the vessel. They however are no longer show flames and the Coast Guard points out that no cracks or holes have been observed so far in the vessel.

Analysts are already beginning to calculate the potential financial impact. The Mercedes-Benz Group confirmed that it has approximately 350 vehicles aboard the ship. London-based data and analytics company Russell Group estimated that the car company could incur an economic loss of at least $13 million from the fire.

“If the cause of the fire turns out to have been started by an electric vehicle, this will be a similar scenario to the Felicity Ace incident. The incident again raises questions surrounding the perils of shipping electric vehicles (EVs), and the flammable nature of EVs that contain lithium-ion batteries,” said Suki Basi, Managing Director of the Russell Group.

The Dutch Coast Guard however is continuing to caution about speculation and various local media reports. The number of vehicles aboard the vessel has come into question with the original manifest showing 2,857 but some media reports are citing numbers as much as 1,000 vehicles higher. The Dutch Coast Guard also asked that while well-intentioned that people stop calling their emergency line with questions and suggestions, saying that it was hampering its operations.