Monday, 2 October, 2023

Netherlands starts towing burning freight ship

Netherlands starts towing burning freight ship
This handout photograph taken on Saturday and released on Sunday by the Dutch coastguards, shows smoke rising from the Panamanian-registered car carrier ship Fremantle Highway, after a fire broke out late on July 25, 2023. —AFP Photo

The operation to move a stricken car freight ship, ablaze for several days near a sensitive area of natural beauty off the Netherlands, has begun after a brief delay, reports Deutsche Welle.

Salvage specialists started towing a burning freighter ship off the coast of the Netherlands to a less dangerous location on Sunday.

It has been ablaze for several days near the Wadden Sea nature reserve and authorities hope to relocate it to a less sensitive spot.

The operation had initially been announced on Saturday but was then delayed because of unfavorable winds and concerns of smoke-related risks for crews on the vessels towing the stricken freighter.

On Sunday, conditions became suitable to tow the freighter carrying more than 3,500 cars, around 500 of them electric vehicles.

The ship has been ablaze for several days. Extinguishing the fire has proved extremely challenging, in no small part because of the difficulty of extinguishing lithium-ion batteries if they ignite.

Dousing the fire with large quantities of water was also not an option, for fear of sinking the ship, sending the pollutant materials on board to the ocean floor.

The fire has shown some of the modern challenges of transporting larger numbers of electric vehicles by ship, on packed freighters, where on-board fire-extinguishing equipment is often relatively primitive and where it can be hard for crews to access the tightly packed ranks of vehicles.

The Netherlands' national water management agency, the Rijkswaterstaat, said the towing began late on Sunday afternoon.

There was considerably less smoke on the cargo ship this afternoon, the government agency said, adding the vessel's stability was constantly being monitored following concerns of it sinking.

The ship is slowly being towed to an area some 16 kilometers (around 10 miles) north of the islands of Schiermonnikoog and Ameland, a few dozen kilometers from where it became stricken.

That's close to the ecologically sensitive Wadden Sea nature reserve, the largest tidal flats system in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The vessel could cause severe environmental damage were it to sink there.

It was anticipated that the tow was likely to take up to 14 hours depending on weather conditions, smoke and the tide.

The cause of the fire on board is unclear, though the vessel's owner has said an electric vehicle may have been the source. Whatever caused the fire, the large number of EVs present among the fire complicates efforts to extinguish it.

One crew member of the Freemantle Highway died in the fire, which forced other sailors to jump overboard when it broke out late on Tuesday.