EEMSHAVEN, Netherlands (AP) – Tugboats towed a cargo ship that burned for a week while with thousands of cars on the North Sea towards a Dutch port on Thursday for salvage, the Dutch government said.
The Fremantle Highway was heading to the northern port of Eemshaven, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management said. A boat that has special booms for it clean up oil spills accompanied the nearly 200-meter (about 650-foot-long) vessel as a safety precaution.
The ship, with 3,784 new vehicles, including 498 electric ones, on board caught fire on July 25 while en route from the German port city of Bremerhaven to Singapore.
Curious tourists gathered on a bridge and seawall at Eemshaven harbor as the gray freighter was being towed. It was not clear how long the salvage work would take.
Port authority Groningen Seaports said it would work with local organizations “to limit the damage to people and the environment as much as possible.”
That fire on the Fremantle Highway burned out of control for a week as it floated near busy shipping lanes in the North Sea and the shallow Wadden Sea, a UNESCO World Heritage site for migratory bird habitat. The Dutch authorities did not attempt to spray water on the ship for fear of making it unstable.
The ministry said Eemshaven, located 215 kilometers (134 miles) northeast of Amsterdam, was chosen because of its proximity to the location of the Fremantle Highway in the North Sea and because of deteriorating weather conditions, the existing infrastructure and the facilities the port offers for salvage of the ship.
The fire on the ship also set nerves on edge in Germany, which shares the Wadden Sea with the Netherlands.
The Environment Minister of Germany’s Lower Saxony, Christian Meyer, thanked the Dutch authorities for making a quick decision on what to do with the Fremantle Highway.
“With the decision, the nail-biting and worry that the cargo ship could break up and still lead to an environmental disaster in our priceless Wadden Sea will hopefully end,” Meyer said in a statement.
He said his region had several vessels on standby to combat possible oil spills or assist with towing during the transfer.
Meyer appealed to Germany’s federal government to set a route further from the coast for ships carrying hazardous materials, including large car transporters.
This is stated by the Dutch Ministry rescue experts has inspected most of the ship and “there is no sign that the fire is still burning.”
One crew member died and others were injured when the fire broke out. The crew of 21, all Indian nationals, and two other people on board, were evacuated in the early hours of 26 July. The cause of the fire has not been determined.
Mike Corder in The Hague and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.