Burning cargo ship off Dutch coast will be towed to new location

A boat hoses the burning ship (Kustwacht Nederland/Coast Guard Netherlands/AP)
A boat hoses the burning ship (Kustwacht Nederland/Coast Guard Netherlands/AP) A boat hoses the burning ship (Kustwacht Nederland/Coast Guard Netherlands/AP)

Salvage crews were preparing on Saturday to tow a car-carrying cargo ship that has been burning for days to an anchor point in the North Sea, after flames and smoke on board subsided, the Dutch government said.

Fire erupted in the Fremantle Highway late on Tuesday near a chain of islands in the northern Netherlands, and has been blazing ever since.

The ship is carrying 3,783 new vehicles, including 498 electric vehicles, the company that chartered the vessel said.

One crew member died and others were injured after the fire broke out on the ship that was heading from Bremerhaven in Germany to Singapore.

The crew was evacuated in the early hours of Wednesday. The cause of the fire has not been established.

Netherlands Cargo Ship Fire
Netherlands Cargo Ship Fire The ship is about 17 miles north of the Dutch island of Ameland (Kustwacht Nederland/Coast Guard Netherlands/AP)

Measurements on Friday showed that heat, flames and smoke had subsided enough for salvage experts to board the ship for the first time and establish a strong towing connection with a tugboat, the Dutch ministry of infrastructure and water management said.

It will be towed, probably over the weekend, to a new position 10 miles north of the island of Schiermonnikoog , the ministry said.

The timing of the operation, that is expected to take 12-14 hours, depends on smoke development and weather, the ministry added.

The aim is ultimately “once conditions on board allow”, to tow the ship to a port, though the destination has not yet been decided.

The ministry said the ship is stable and intact below the waterline.

The burning vessel is close to the shallow Wadden Sea, a World Heritage-listed area that is considered one of the world’s most significant habitats for migratory birds.

It is also near the Netherlands’ border with Germany, whose environment minister, Steffi Lemke, has warned of “an environmental catastrophe of unknown proportions”, if the ship were to sink.