BMW Is Blocking Sales of Vehicles Salvaged From Last Year’s Car Carrier Inferno

The MV Fremantle Highway went up in flames last summer after a suspected EV fire. Some cars were OK, but BMW doesn't want them sold anyway.
03 August 2023, Netherlands, Eemshaven: Tugs pull the badly damaged car carrier "Fremantle Highway" into the harbor. A good week after the fire broke out, the approximately 200-meter-long ship had been towed for hours to the North Sea port at the mouth of the Ems River. Photo: Lars Penning/dpa (Photo by Lars Penning/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Lars Penning

Nearly a year ago, the car carrier MV Fremantle Highway caught fire off the coast of Europe, where authorities feared it would sink. The ship survived, however, and some of the cars it was carrying were apparently in good enough condition to be salvaged and resold. Or perhaps not, as BMW has sued to stop the salvaged cars from hitting the market, insisting they’re too far gone to be allowed on the road.

The MV Fremantle Highway is a car carrier that left Germany for Egypt in July 2023, carrying nearly 4,000 new cars. Shortly after departure, a fire started in the hold, potentially due to an EV battery malfunction. The blaze spread rapidly, killing one of the ship’s 23 crew before they could escape. Though the vessel was thought to be at risk of sinking like the Felicity Ace did in February 2022, the fire eventually went out, allowing the ship to be transported to the Dutch port of Eemshaven for salvage and repair.

Surprisingly, around a quarter of the 3,857 cars aboard were described as undamaged in Maritime Executive. A quarter of their number—260 BMWs to be precise—would be sold off by a Taiwanese insurance company, and their buyer would then resell the lot to a group of Dutch speculators according to The Northern Times. The Dutch group reportedly claims the cars are in good condition, having only gathered soot in the fire, and seeks to resell the salvaged vehicles. But BMW is having none of it.

The automaker reportedly filed a preliminary injunction in Dutch courts last December, claiming concerns over the cars’ safety and the risk of reputational damage if the cars are allowed to be sold. A company lawyer reportedly said that the cars were written off by insurance as a “total loss” and that they have damaged structural metal, wiring, and paint. They also reportedly claim that other intact vehicles salvaged from the ship, notably Audis and Mercedes-Benzes, were recycled rather than resold due to their condition.

The Dutch buyers have reportedly offered the compromise of selling the cars outside Europe, though that raises questions as to how safe the cars are if the sellers are willing to concede access to the European market. It’s possible the BMWs are in as good of shape as claimed, as they may have been in a safer part of the hold where they might’ve escaped damage. It’s also hard to believe that modern BMWs with damaged paint and wiring could be fixed, transported, and then resold economically, indicating the damage may be on the milder end as the Dutch group claims.

But neither party’s claims are verifiable without getting eyes on the cars themselves, which none of us are likely to do. So, keep an eye open if you’re buying a like-new BMW in Africa that supposedly has only “minor” smoke damage.

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