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Salvage Teams Board Fremantle Highway as Investigation Begins

Salvage Fremantle Highway
Fremantle Highway was towed into Eemshaven, Netherlands on August 3 (Rijkswaterstaat)

Published Aug 8, 2023 12:20 PM by The Maritime Executive

Salvage teams boarded the burnt-out car carrier Fremantle Highway on Monday as the next step in the efforts to fully assess the damage while a comprehensive investigation has also been launched to understand the cause of the fire. Speaking with the Dutch media, executives from SMIT and Multraship which are working on the salvage detailed some of their initial findings.

The hulk was towed into the Dutch port of Eemshaven arriving during the day on August 3 after the firefight. The fire broke out overnight on July 25 and when the crew was unable to contain the fire, they called for assistance from the Netherlands Coast Guard. As the fire continued to spread, the crew was evacuated while a broad team was formed for the multi-day firefight.

Salvage teams were permitted to board the vessel and begin work after the safety authorities in the Dutch province of Groningen completed an initial inspection on August 5. They reported that there was no longer any danger aboard the ship from the fire and it was safe with the teams to proceed aboard the vessel.

Speaking during an interview with the Dutch outlet NOS Radio 1, Richard Janssen of SMIT Salvage said the first steps included dewatering the ship and making sure that there was a safe environment. Tests were conducted on the atmosphere in different compartments. They also established temporary lighting aboard the vessel and a working area for the salvage team.

The initial inspection is showing that the engine room of the vessel is intact. He said that the cars on decks one through four appeared from a visual inspection to also be intact. He said there were both gasoline and electric cars on those decks. Media reports are saying that possibly as many as 800 of the 3,784 vehicles, which included 498 electric cars, aboard could have survived the fire without damage. Possibly helping, Janssen reports deck five of the vessel was empty.

The suspicion which the investigators will seek to confirm is that the fire began on deck eight. Janssen reports that the fire had raged through decks six through eleven. He said it was probable that they would remove many burnt-out car frames.

A new crew is being sent to the ship to help the salvage team with the ship’s systems. They will concentrate on the engine room, getting some of the systems back online, and helping pump the fuel.

 

Fremantle Highway will be offloaded in Eemshaven after the investigation (Groningen Seaports)

 

Ultimately, they expect the car manufacturers to work with the team to determine the status of the cars. Volkswagen has now confirmed that it had a small number of cars aboard the vessel in addition to BMW which is believed to have had as many as 1,000 BMW and Mini cars aboard. Rolls-Royce also said it had a few cars aboard and is working with the buyers directly. SMIT reports there were also some construction cranes aboard the vessel.

At the same time, the Dutch Safety Board working with the authorities from Panama, the ship’s flag state, has launched an official investigation. They are concentrating on the origin of the fire and working to establish if it was in fact an electric car as speculated by the media that started the fire. The vessel’s owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, has said it also wants to investigate the fire, but according to the salvage team, it is unclear if they will be sending an independent inspection team to the Netherlands.

The car carrier was operating under charter to Japan’s Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha (“K” Line) which reported that there were 21 Indian nationals as the crew as well as a superintendent and pilot aboard when the fire began. They said that 22 people had been hospitalized reporting that 21 people had been released by July 31. The pilot was released from the hospital on August 2 and the captain on the following day. One crewmember died from injuries sustained while jumping from the burning ship.

Leendert Muller, managing director of Multraship speaking with the Dutch media cautioned that the recovery operation would continue for an extended period of time. He said it could take weeks before there is clarity.

Officials for Groningen Seaports, which is the economic operator and authority for the Eemshaven port, said they expect that once the investigators have completed their review and the insurance adjusters have gone through the vessel that the cars will begin to be unloaded onto the dock. They speculated it could be another three weeks before unloading could begin but noted that the dock, however, is already committed to another shipping company starting in October. They said due to the strong demand from offshore supply ships, dock space is very limited in the seaport.