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Dutch firefighters were still struggling to put out the fire on a cargo ship carrying 3,000 vehicles some 16 hours after the blaze started, the Dutch coast guard said on Wednesday afternoon. 

It could take hours, days, or even weeks to make sure the fire is completely out, a spokesman said. It is currently too dangerous to put firefighters on the ship itself. “If you start filling the ship with water, you risk destabilizing it and that could tip it over,” spokesman Edwin Grammeman told broadcaster NOS

According to the coast guard, a distress call came in around midnight from the Fremantle Highway, a cargo ship en route to Egypt from Germany. The ship was some 30 kilometres off the coast of the Wadden Sea island of Ameland.

The 23 crew members on board the Panamanian-flagged ship attempted to put out the fire themselves, but the blaze spread too fast. Specialised firefighters were brought in from Rotterdam but the situation had already become too dangerous by the time they arrived.

Seven of the crew jumped into the sea and were picked up by nearby ships. The remaining crew members were rescued by helicopter. It is not clear how the person who died was killed.

 The authorities are now focusing their efforts on preventing the listing ship from sinking. A tugboat from the Wadden Island water taxi service Rederij Noordgat was able to attach a rope to the Fremantle Highway and prevent it from drifting into shipping lanes.

Other boats are on standby to try to help pull the vessel to safety.

The coastguard has appealed to the owners of small planes not to try to get close to the stricken cargo ship because they could impede the rescue operation.

There are currently three scenarios how the fire could pan out, Grammeman said. The ship could sink, it could be towed to shore and it could be allowed to burn out completely, he told the broadcaster. 

As yet it is unclear how the fire started but there is speculation it could have broken out in one of the electric cars on board. That is the likely reason, according to the ship’s Japanese owners Shoei Kisen Kaisha, NOS said. 

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