After burning for almost a week, the fire on car-carrier Fremantle Highway has been extinguished, Dutch authorities said today (2 August)
Early reports suggested the vessel was carrying only 25 electric vehicles (EVs), but later reports revealed this was a drastic underestimate and there were a considerably higher number aboard, making up a higher proportion of EVs than on Felicity Ace, a vessel which sank last year after a similar catastrophic fire.
However the Dutch coastguard (Rijkswaterstaat) confirmed there were no hull breaches below the waterline and that for the time being there was little to suggest the vessel would sink.
An Indian national crew member died in the fire and 22 others were admitted to hospital with injuries, some after leaping from the deck into the sea. Early footage of the fire shows flames engulfing the upper deck of the vessel behind the accommodation block, which would have rendered two davit-mounted lifeboats inaccessible.
Authorities are now closely monitoring the stability of the vessel, said MS Arca oil-control vessel captain Cees Zwaan, adding: “We call on ships approaching to keep two miles away.”
Fremantle Highway was towed to a position 10 miles north of the Netherlands islands of Schiermonnikoog and Ameland, where it will remain until the authorities devise a salvage strategy.
Meanwhile reports in Dutch newspaper Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant have criticised the government for outsourcing helicopter services. Coastguard helicopters, rented from British-American company Bristow, took twice as long to arrive at the scene as they should have done, taking to the air in 40 and 49 minutes, compared with 20 minutes upheld as the coastguard standard.
The report blames this delay for the decision by seven of Fremantle Highway’s crew to jump over the side of the vessel. This was because a limited number of seats meant that two helicopters were needed to carry the firefighting team.
“That is why a helicopter stationed in Den Helder had to detour via Rotterdam, instead of going directly to the site,” reads the NRC report. “This is evident from flight data from the helicopters and conversations with aid workers and pilots. “Responsible minister Mark Harbers was warned during the tendering process that the company would not be able to keep its promises, but then stated that the ‘international company, with years of experience’ would even achieve a response time of ten minutes.”