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A freighter carrying 3,885 vehicles that ran aground Oct. 1 on Izu-Oshima Island in the Pacific, caught fire Tuesday morning and was billowing black and white smoke and leaking fuel, the Japan Coast Guard said.

The 56,835-ton Hual Europe, which has broken in two, caught fire around 5:30 a.m., coast guard officials said. It is still stuck in the same place it ran aground on Oct. 1 at the mouth of Habuminato port. Oshima lies around 110 km southwest of Tokyo. The Hual Europe is registered in the Bahamas and is owned by a Norwegian shipping firm.

A plume of thick, black smoke billowed from the freighter, which had broken its back and was listing 60 degrees toward the shore, said an Oshima government official.

The coast guard said it dispatched three patrol boats and a helicopter to the site after receiving news of the fire from a freighter that passed the site at around 5:30 a.m. Patrol boats have been unable to get near the ship as it lies on rocks in shallow waters near the shore, it added.

According to Oshima municipal authorities, 33 people in 21 households who live near where the ship is stranded had voluntarily evacuated their homes as of 4 p.m. after clouds of smoke filled their neighborhood.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, officials said, adding that nobody was aboard the ship when the fire broke out.

Municipal officials said gasoline inside the fuel tank of the loaded vehicles may have caught fire.

There was also risk of an explosion on the ship, which still contains 300 kiloliters of fuel oil, the coast guard said, adding that it originally carried 1,300 kiloliters.

Some oil has been drained from the vessel, which is split in half down the middle, and some has leaked, according to the Habuminato Fishery Association, which has placed oil barriers around the ship in a bid to contain the leaking oil and remove it.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has dispatched an official to the island and has provided updates on the incident to officials in charge of disasters in five departments in the local government.

The ship, which carries a cargo of automobiles valued at some 10 billion yen, was washed ashore on the eastern side of Izu-Oshima Island during a typhoon. Most of the automobiles are new, the coast guard said.

The Hual Europe was heading for Jamaica from Yokohama and had anchored off Izu-Oshima Island to ride out the typhoon. The ship’s captain and 23 crew members, all from the Philippines, were rescued Oct. 2 by the coast guard. Work to drain oil from the ship and refloat it has been under way since.

The Yokohama District Marine Accidents Commissioner’s Office filed an inquiry with the Marine Accidents Inquiry Agency on Nov. 1, accusing the captain of not taking appropriate measures to avoid running aground.

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