Fremantle Highway Fire
Photo: Dutch coastguard

Authorities have drastically revised the number of electric cars on board Fremantle Highway, as the stricken Panama-flagged car carrier is under tow while still burning.

Not only are there more cars aboard than previously reported, revised to up to 3,783 from the previous figure of 2,857, but Fremantle Highway’s electric vehicle (EV) contingent of 498 is far higher than the 25 initially reported.

This means batteries made up a higher proportion of the vessel’s cargo than on Felicity Ace, a car carrier which sank mid-Atlantic after catastrophic fires last year carrying only 281 EVs. The finding begs the question of whether Fremantle Highway will sink with its cargo off the Dutch coast, or whether the closer proximity and faster travel times of salvors can save the vessel.

The lithium-ion batteries inside EVs are made of thousands of individual cells, meaning a fire can be very challenging to extinguish as the heat from an alight cell can cause combustion in neighbouring cells, even well after it has been extinguished. This gives the impression that battery has spontaneously re-lit and also that such fires can be prolonged, as the fire spreads through each battery.

The fire on Fremantle Highway has claimed the life of one seafarer, an Indian national, and there are widespread injuries among the vessel’s 24 other crew, including seven forced to leap from the side of the vessel, a drop of some 30 metres and an impact with the water at around 130 kph. Two lifeboats behind Fremantle Highway’s accommodation block were rendered unusable by the blaze.

Following the loss of Felicity Ace, safety measures were taken throughout the car carrier sector, including K-Line compatriot MOL refusing to load used or damaged electric cars. This, however, would not have saved Fremantle Highway as all the vehicles on the ship are reportedly new.

“We have to recognise that there is a bad run of [fires], if not a concerning trend,” TT Club risk management director Peregrine Storrs-Fox told The Loadstar on Friday.

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  • Francis Kirkwood

    August 06, 2023 at 1:46 pm

    Not being a seafarer, I would seriously be suspicious as why the amount and type of vehicles was not readily available on a manifest before leaving harbour.