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That Flaming Cargo Ship Is Loaded With Nearly 500 EVs, Not 25

Almost one in seven cars on the blazing cargo ship are electric.
A cargo ship on fire as viewed from the air. A large fire is visibly on the ship's bow, while most of the deck emits smoke.
Dutch Coast Guard / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The prognosis for a fire onboard a cargo ship transporting thousands of cars has taken a turn for the worse, as news has come out that the vessel is carrying far more electric vehicles than initially reported. It worsens the odds of containing the fire and salvaging the ship, which is reportedly at risk of sinking in an ecologically significant area.

Currently situated off the northern coast of the Netherlands is the 653-foot Fremantle Highway, a Panamanian-flagged cargo ship chartered by the Japan-based K Line. According to Reuters, the ship was en route from Germany to Egypt when a fire began “near” one of the EVs in the hold. The blaze spread rapidly, and one of the 24 crew was killed. Seven of the remaining 23 were reportedly injured, but are now receiving medical treatment in the Netherlands.

Initial reports indicated there were only 25 EVs on board, but K Line has now reportedly confirmed the Fremantle Highway is carrying 498 EVs out of 3,857 cars total. (Their brands have not been identified.) A Dutch emergency responder was reportedly heard attributing the fire to an EV battery on TV news channel RTL.

While not statistically more likely than fires in fossil-fueled vehicles, EV fires burn at far higher temperatures and are more difficult to extinguish. That’s because lithium-ion batteries can combust on their own if they reach too high of a temperature, and reignite days or even weeks after a thermal event initially began. One potential cause of the fire is manufacturing defects in a single cell, which could cause a chain reaction that burns up the whole car.

The fire reportedly isn’t yet under control, but firefighting efforts are ongoing, with vessels spraying water to stabilize the situation. However, the Dutch coast guard is preparing for the Fremantle Highway to sink according to CBS News, while Panamanian and Dutch authorities are cooperating on an investigation.

Concerns have been raised that if the ship sinks, it could take a toll on the nearby Wadden Sea, a UNESCO World Heritage conservation area. Described as “the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud flats in the world,” the area is noted as an important habitat for migratory birds.

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