One crew member has died and 22 others have been injured in a fire on a large cargo vessel loaded with nearly 3,000 vehicles off the Dutch island of Ameland in the North Sea, officials said on Wednesday.
The fire was reported just before midnight on Tuesday and was still burning on Wednesday, the Dutch Coast Guard said. Video posted by the Coast Guard showed smoke billowing from the 656-foot vessel, as one of the many ships that responded to the fire doused it with water.
Lea Versteeg, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, told The Associated Press that the cargo ship, called the Fremantle Highway, had been carrying 2,857 cars, including 25 electric cars.
The cause of the fire was not known, the Coast Guard said, adding that specialists from a marine salvage company were assessing the situation, which it described as “stable at the moment.”
The Coast Guard said the ship, which had just left the German port of Bremerhaven, was about 17 miles north of Ameland, one of the West Frisian Islands off the north coast of the Netherlands. It was carrying 23 crew members when the fire broke out.
After it started burning, some of the crew members jumped into the water and were rescued in lifeboats, the Coast Guard said. One crew member died, it said, adding that it was not immediately clear how.
Twenty-two other crew members were treated for breathing problems, burns and broken bones, officials said. The crew member who died was Indian, according to the Indian Embassy in the Netherlands, which said it was in touch with the sailor’s family and with 20 of the injured sailors.
The Dutch Coast Guard said that it was concerned that pouring too much water onto the ship to extinguish the fire could cause it to become unstable. It was not yet possible, the agency added, to drop firefighters onto the vessel to battle the fire.
Ameland is near the Wadden Sea, a UNESCO World Heritage site off Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands that the United Nations describes as the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud flats in the world.
Considered one of the world’s most important areas for migratory birds, the Wadden Sea is also home to marine mammals such as the harbor seal, gray seal and harbor porpoise.
Officials from the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management said they were closely involved in the response to the fire.
“Together with the Coast Guard and salvage companies, we are looking at what should happen if the ship has to be towed away and salvaged,” the officials said in a statement. “We will do everything we can to limit the damage to people and the environment as much as possible.”
It was not immediately clear what kind of vehicles were on the ship, although Volkswagen released a statement expressing “great sadness” that a crew member had died, adding that it was unable to provide further information.
The fire came just weeks after two firefighters were killed in a fire aboard an Italian cargo ship that was loaded with 1,200 vehicles at Port Newark in New Jersey. The persistence of that fire, which burned for five days, led to speculation that some of the cars that the ship had been carrying had been electric vehicles with lithium ion batteries.
But Beth Rooney, the port director for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said this month that the ship’s manifest indicated that there were no electric vehicles on board.
In March 2022, a cargo ship that was carrying about 4,000 cars sank about 253 miles off the Azores after it burned for two weeks. That ship, the Felicity Ace, had been at sea for six days after leaving Emden, Germany, for the port of Davisville, R.I., when a fire erupted in the cargo hold. No crew members were injured.