Salvage crews dealing with a cargo ship loaded with cars that has been burning for more than two days off the northern Dutch coast boarded the vessel for the first time Friday as heat, flames and smoke eased, the Netherlands’ coast guard said.
“In the course of the morning, after measurements by the recovery companies, it turned out that the temperature on board the Fremantle Highway had dropped sharply. The fire is still raging but decreasing. The smoke is also decreasing,” the coast guard said in a statement.
Salvage workers boarded the ship and established “a new more robust towing connection,” the agency added. “This makes it easier to move the ship and keep it under control.”
Government officials are now “looking at various scenarios to determine the next steps,” the coast guard said.
One crew member died and others were injured after the blaze started. The entire crew was evacuated from the ship in the early hours of Wednesday, with some leaping into the sea and being picked up by a lifeboat. The cause of the fire hasn’t been established.
The Fremantle Highway was 14 miles north of the island of Terschelling on Friday afternoon, close to busy North Sea shipping lanes and an internationally renowned migratory bird habitat.
K Line, the company that chartered the ship, said Friday that it was carrying far more electric vehicles than initially reported by the coast guard.
Company spokesman Pat Adamson said the ship was carrying a total of 3,783 new vehicles, including 498 electric vehicles. The coast guard, citing an early freight list, had said it was carrying 2,857 cars, including 25 electric cars.
Adamson said K Line didn’t know the source of the initial lower number.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has warned about the possible dangers of electric vehicle battery fires, a hazard that stems from thermal runaway, a chemical reaction that causes uncontrolled battery temperature and pressure increases.
The burning vessel was 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’s also close to the Netherlands’ border with Germany, whose environment minister, Steffi Lemke, said Thursday that if the ship were to sink, it “could turn into an environmental catastrophe of unknown proportions.”
Earlier this month in Newark, New Jersey, firefighters took nearly a week to extinguish a similar blaze in a car transport ship. Two firefighters were killed and five others were injured battling the flames.