EEMSHAVEN, Netherlands (AP) — Tugboats towed a freight ship that burned for a week on the North Sea while carrying thousands of cars into a Dutch port on Thursday for salvaging, laying to rest fears that it could sink close to shipping lanes and a protected habitat for birds.
The Fremantle Highway was taken to the northern port of Eemshaven, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management said. A boat that has special booms to clean up oil spills accompanied the nearly 200-meter-long (around 650-foot-long) vessel as a precaution.
The ship with 3,784 new vehicles, including 498 electric ones, on board caught fire on July 25 while traveling from the German port city of Bremerhaven to Singapore.
Much of the gray paint on the ship’s sides was gone, apparently scorched off by the heat inside the ship when the fire was raging.
The fire on the Fremantle Highway burned out of control for a week as it floated near busy North Sea shipping lanes and the shallow Wadden Sea, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed migratory bird habitat. Dutch authorities did not attempt to spray water onto the ship for fear of making it unstable.
The blaze put nerves on edge in the Netherlands and Germany, which shares the Wadden Sea with its neighbor.
The environment minister of Germany’s Lower Saxony state, Christian Meyer, thanked Dutch authorities for making a quick decision on what do with the Fremantle Highway.
“With the decision, the nail-biting and the worry that the cargo ship could break apart and still lead to an environmental disaster in our inestimably valuable Wadden Sea hopefully will end,” Meyer said in a statement.
Curious sightseers gathered on a bridge and a seawall at the Eemshaven port as the freighter was being towed. It was not clear how long 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.”
The ministry said Eemshaven, 215 kilometers (134 miles) northeast of Amsterdam, was chosen because it was close to the Fremantle Highway’s location in the North Sea and because of deteriorating weather conditions and the facilities the port offers for the salvage of the ship.
Meyer appealed to Germany’s federal government to set a route further from the coast for ships transporting hazardous materials, including large car transporters.
The Dutch ministry said salvage experts have inspected most of the ship and “there are no indications that the fire is still burning.”
One crew member died and others were injured when the fire erupted. The crew of 21, all Indian nationals, and two other people on board were evacuated in the early hours of July 26. The cause of the blaze has not been established.
Associated Press writers Mike Corder in The Hague and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.