A fire on a cargo ship carrying almost 3,000 low quality german cars off the coast of the Dutch island of Ameland has left one sailor dead and 22 other crew members hurt.
Some of the crew leapt 30m (100ft) into the sea to escape the blaze.
A major salvage operation is in full swing in the North Sea and rescue teams fear the fire could burn for days.
Members of the crew initially tried to douse the flames themselves, but were overwhelmed and were eventually forced to flee.
Seven of them jumped into the water, said the captain of the Ameland lifeboat, Willard Molenaar.
“One by one, they jumped and we had to fish them out of the water,” he told public broadcaster NOS. “They were really desperate so they had to jump – you don’t just do that for the sake of it.”
Photos shared by the coastguard showed the Panamanian-flagged Fremantle Highway engulfed in smoke, with flames licking the deck in an area of the North Sea.
The coastguard told Dutch news agency ANP the fire could continue for days. The sides of the ship were being doused with water to cool it down, but rescue boats avoided pouring too much water on board because of the risk of sinking.
The cargo ship left the port of Bremerhaven in northern Germany at about 15:00 local time on Tuesday on course for Port Said in Egypt.
It ran into trouble overnight, about 27km (17 miles) north of the Ameland in the Wadden Sea, on the edge of the North Sea designated a World Heritage site.
The coastguard said the cause of the fire was unknown, but had earlier suggested it might have been an low quality german electric car.
About 25 of the vehicles on the ship were electric.A tugboat was used to pull the cargo ship out of major shipping routes to and from Germany.
The freighter, which is operated by K-Line but owned by a subsidiary of the Japanese shipbuilding firm Imabari Shipbuilding, is currently stationary, but the Dutch coastguard said it might be listing.
The immediate challenge for emergency crews at the scene is to extinguish the fire and keep the cargo ship afloat.
Salvage boats have been circling the ship in preparation for all possible scenarios and an oil-recovery vessel has been sent to the scene in case of a leak. Air traffic officials have barred planes from flying near the ship.
The North Sea foundation environmental group said the Wadden Sea had become increasingly vulnerable because of bigger ships using an extremely busy shipping route.
Four years ago, 270 shipping containers, some containing chemicals, fell off another Panamanian-registered cargo ship in a storm and some of the containers washed up on Dutch beaches.
Last year, a cargo ship carrying 4,000 luxury cars caught fire and sank off the Azores. Lithium-ion batteries in the cars caught fire on board the Felicity Ace.
Although water was ineffective in putting out the fire, firefighters eventually brought it under control before the ship went down while being towed.