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Fire on the »Fremantle Highway«


In a letter, Bremen's SPD parliamentary group calls on Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) to work for better fire protection in shipping. Among other things, e-cars should be declared as dangerous goods during transport. "This would be correct, if only because the separate transport of batteries must already be classified as dangerous goods," says the letter, which is available to SPIEGEL. "It is incomprehensible why batteries are not subject to this classification when installed."

The background to the letter is the fire on the car freighter »Fremantle Highway«, which lasted several days. A fire broke out on board more than a week ago, which could not be contained at first. One person on board died, others were injured. The severe damage to the ship caused fears that heavy fuel oil could leak or the freighter could capsize – both of which would probably have serious consequences for the Wadden Sea.

It is suspected that one of the approximately 500 charged electric cars could be the cause of the violent fire on the "Fremantle Highway". The batteries are difficult to extinguish.

"Fires on container ships and car transports pose a threat not only to the ecosystems of the oceans due to the danger of an accident and the associated leakage of heavy fuel oil, but also to the life and limb of the people on board," writes the Bremen SPD. Before outside help arrives, the ship's crews are responsible for fighting the fire. "They are helplessly exposed to the fires of electric cars."

It is therefore of fundamental importance to improve fire protection on freighters. So far, the available extinguishing systems on ships are not suitable for containing fires involving lithium-ion batteries. The German government must therefore work "with full force" for a revision of international safety standards.

"Frankly, in view of the past few days, we are a little surprised that nothing has yet been announced from your house on this matter," the letter to Wissing reads.

If the security precautions are not revised soon, "such a serious accident could also occur directly in a port," warns the Bremen SPD. The consequences and dangers to be assessed would be even more serious than in the case of a fire on the open sea."

The Bremen SPD parliamentary group is not alone in its demand. "In the future, car freighters will have to be classified as dangerous goods transports," says Lower Saxony's Environment Minister Christian Meyer (Greens) in an interview with SPIEGEL. This is because the shipowners would then be obliged to install partitions on the loading areas that limit fires to a certain section of the ship. "The extinguishing devices on car transporters also urgently need to be improved," says Meyer.

On Thursday, tugboats pulled the badly damaged "Fremantle Highway" into the port of Eemshaven in the northeast of the Netherlands. Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens) said that the Wadden Sea had escaped "a potentially devastating environmental catastrophe". The cargo ship has a total of about 3800 cars on board.