Japanese car carrier Fremantle Highway still burning off Dutch coast

Japanese car carrier Fremantle Highway still burning off Dutch coast.jpg

Japanese shipping group K Line has confirmed that it is the operator of a car carrier that caught fire in the North Sea on 25 July, while en route from Germany to Singapore.

Fire broke out around 11.45 pm (Dutch time) on the 2013-built Fremantle Highway, carrying approximately 3,000 cars, off the Dutch island of Ameland, and at the time of writing, the ship is still burning.

One of the 21-man crew died while the others were all evacuated on a helicopter and lifeboat; all the seafarers are Indian nationals. Some of the seafarers are said to have been injured in the mayhem. Fremantle Highway has now been towed out of the main shipping lanes.

K Line said, “The owners are currently trying to extinguish the fire in cooperation with local authorities and concerned parties and they will continue to endeavour to extinguish the fire and recover the situation as soon as possible.”

S&P Global’s database indicates that Fremantle Highway is owned by Japanese tonnage provider Shoei Kisen Kaisha, while the vessel is technically managed by Wallem Shipmanagement.

Shoei Kisen Kaisha itself also released a statement confirming that it owns Fremantle Highway.

The company, Imabari Shipbuilding’s affiliate, said, “We are now trying to extinguish the fire in cooperation with the local authorities of the Netherlands, the salvor and the ship management company. We will keep on endeavouring to extinguish the fire and recover the situation as soon as possible.”

The Dutch coast guard said a cable has been attached to Fremantle Highway to prevent the ship from drifting and blocking a route to Germany. There are also environmental risks, as Ameland is in the Waddensee area spanning the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a rich diversity of more than 10,000 aquatic and terrestrial species.

Shoei Kisen Kaisha told the Dutch Nederlandse Omroep Stichting public broadcaster that the fire was likely to have started from electric vehicles (EV) being carried on Fremantle Highway. It is estimated that there were some 25 EVs among the approximately 3,000 cars on board.

Fremantle Highway had left Bremerhaven, Germany, on 25 July, and was due to arrive in Egypt’s Port Said on 2 August, although K Line and Shoei Kisen Kaisha said the ship was eventually bound for Singapore.

In recent years, fires on car carriers, such as Mitsui OSK Lines’ Felicity Ace, have raised safety concerns with lithium-ion batteries that are used to power EVs.

On 5 July, two firefighters from the New Jersey Fire Department died while responding to a fire on Grimaldi Lines’ container ro-ro ship Grande Costa d’Avorio, which was carrying cars. Several cars on one deck had burst into flames, which quickly spread to other decks.

Insurers have also flagged up increasing fire risks from car carriers. It is estimated that the cargo loss from Felicity Ace, which caught fire and sank in the Atlantic Ocean in 2022, totalled nearly US$500 million.

Martina Li
Asia Correspondent

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