The cargo ship on fire off the coast of the Netherlands is still engulfed in flames for the second consecutive day. Coastguards announced on Thursday that they have suspended firefighting operations to prevent the ship from sinking.
Dutch authorities were still engaged on Thursday evening, July 27, in a race against time to prevent a potential ecological disaster off their northern coast, where a car-carrying cargo ship has been on fire for the second consecutive day.
While the blaze has decreased in intensity, firefighting operations have been suspended to prevent the ship from sinking, according to the coastguards.
“The fire is still raging and there is still a lot of smoke. However, the intensity of the fire seems to have decreased compared to yesterday,” they said in a statement on Thursday evening.
“The ship is no longer constantly cooled to prevent unnecessary amounts of water from entering the ship. This puts the stability of the boat at risk,” they added, stating that the situation is not yet safe enough to allow for a rescue team to be deployed on board.
However, they are still monitoring the ship from a tugboat, as well as with the help of an aircraft from the authorities, “in preparation for a rescue plan.”
The Panamanian-flagged Fremantle Highway was drifting westward despite the deployment of a tugboat to which it is attached in order to maintain its position. But rescue teams took advantage of a change in the current’s direction on Thursday afternoon to alter its trajectory and prevent it from approaching shipping lanes, according to the coastguards.
“The current is changing and this moment is also used to turn the Fremantle Highway. This is so that the ship drifts eastward again,” they stated.
The latest aerial footage released by the coastguards shows significant amounts of smoke still emanating from the vessel. “On the video, damage is visible on the boat. It is peeling paint. No cracks or cavities have been observed so far,” the coastguards affirmed.
Sensitive ecological site
Earlier on Thursday, spokesperson for the coastguards Edwin Granneman explained to BNR radio that “the risk of an environmental disaster is still present,” with a potential scenario “in which the ship capsizes and sinks. There would then be damage to the environment.”
The outgoing Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, Mark Harbers, stated in a letter to Parliament on Wednesday that if a fuel leak were to occur on the Fremantle Highway, it could drift away from the islands towards the North Sea, due to the current and wind conditions.
The cause of the fire remains unknown. According to the Japanese owner of the ship, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, cited by NOS news, one of the 25 electric cars on board could be the cause of the fire, which started shortly after midnight on Tuesday night. Shoei Kisen Kaisha also owns the Ever Given, which blocked the Suez Canal in 2021.
The islands of Ameland and Terschelling, near which the Fremantle Highway is located, are part of a group of eight Dutch islands (including five inhabited ones) located between the Wadden Sea and the North Sea, north of the Netherlands.
The Wadden Sea, which runs along a coastal region stretching from the Netherlands to Denmark, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and has a rich diversity of over 10,000 aquatic and terrestrial species.
The Fremantle Highway is an 18,500-ton cargo ship that departed from the German port of Bremerhaven to reach Port Said in Egypt before continuing on to Singapore, its final destination. It was carrying approximately 3,000 cars.
Among the 23 crew members on board who were able to be evacuated, one sailor died – on a lifeboat, according to NOS – and several others were injured.
The crew is from India, according to the Dutch news agency ANP.