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Freighter carrying nearly 3,000 cars catches fire in the North Sea off the coast of Netherlands

AMSTERDAM: Owners of a cargo ship which caught fire off the coast of the Netherlands, killing one crew member, suspect an electric car may be the cause of the blaze.

Authorities fear the fire aboard the 18,500-tonne Fremantle Highway car carrier could burn for days and threaten nearby natural sites in the North Sea.

Rescue personnel received a call early on Wednesday reporting a fire about 14.5 nautical miles off the northern Dutch island of Ameland.

All 23 crew members were evacuated from the ship, but one person died and several were injured, the coastguard said. It was not clear how the crew member died.

“The fire could still burn for days,” a coastguard official who spoke on condition of anonymity told AFP.

“The ship is being cooled to keep it stable,” said the official. “Only the side of the ship is being sprayed, not the deck.”

Shipping company Shoei Kisen Kaisha said in a statement the car carrier Fremantle Highway, which was transporting 2,857 cars, was travelling to its final destination in Singapore when the fire broke out.

The company told Dutch public broadcaster NOS “there is a good chance that the fire started with electric cars”, of which some 25 were on board.

“But we are not entirely sure of the cause; we are waiting for the investigation,” it said.

The Fremantle Highway is currently close to Ameland, one in an archipelago of ecologically sensitive islands situated in the Waddensee area just north of the Dutch mainland.

Rijkswaterstaat, the government agency tasked with overseeing public works and water management, said Wednesday evening the situation was “stable”, but added: “Towing or rescue [of the vessel] can only take place once the fire is out.”

The injured sailors, mainly from India, were taken to the northern towns of Lauwersoog and Eelde where they were left in the care of paramedics. “They all suffered from breathing problems, but none are in serious danger,” a safety official of the Drenthe region told AFP.

“The sailors were also treated for burns and broken bones,” she added. Fires on car-carrying ships were increasingly the source of major losses, insurers said.