The Dutch Safety Board is starting an exploratory investigation into the Fremantle Highway. A fire broke out on this car carrier in the night of 25 to 26 July 2023 while sailing north of the Dutch Wadden Island Ameland.

The exploratory investigation will at least focus on how the emergency response immediately after the fire was initiated and unfolded.

Chris van Dam, chairman Dutch Safety Board: ‘In this exploratory investigation, we have the same powers as when we decide on a definitive investigation. This allows us to interview various people involved. If the results of this exploratory investigation give us reason to do so, we may decide to continue the investigation.’

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Panamian authorities

The investigation into the fire aboard the cargo ship, which resulted in the death of a crew member, is led by Panamanian authorities. The Dutch Safety Board is cooperating with Panama in that investigation. The exploratory investigation into the emergency response is taking place alongside the Panamanian investigation into the fire.

Also read: ‘Shipping losses hit record low, but jump in fires’

Fremantle Highway fire

The Fremantle Highway caught fire in the North Sea. The crew were unable to extinguish the fire and one of them was killed in the fire. The other 22 were injured and evacuated.

The Netherlands Coast Guard emergency tug Guardian was involved in the firefighting, as well as the German emergency tug Nordic. The use of water had to be limited due to a risk of the vessel becoming unstable. It took until 1 August before the fire was extinguished.

A towing line was established by Rederij Noordgat’s tug Hunter, which was later replaced by the more powerful Fairplay 30. Owner Shoei Kisen Kaisha contracted Boskalis (Smit Salvage) and Multraship to salvage the ship.

The car carrier was towed north of Schiermonnikoog due to wind and currents and to get it away from busy shipping lines. A port was then sought to tow the vessel to, which became the Eemshaven in the north of the Netherlands. The ship arrived here on 3 August.

The ship was en route from Germany’s Bremerhaven to Port Said in Egypt and from there to Singapore. The vessel carried 3783 cars, nearly 500 of which were electric. Initial inspections by salvors indicate that the cars on the lower decks seem to still be in good condition.

Picture by the Dutch Ministry of Defence.

Also read: Major shipping carriers target cargo fires and losses together