NPR has reported that the large ship, Felicity Ace, sank as it was being towed to land about 250 miles off the coast of Portugal’s Azores islands. It broke into flames two weeks before and had been evacuated.
The 650-foot-long cargo ship was carrying nearly 4,000 luxury cars from Germany to the U.S. As reported by Car and Driver, the vehicles included Porsches, Bentleys, Volkswagens, and also EVs. The ship caught fire in February 2022 in the middle of the Atlantic. The salvage team attributes the difficulties with extinguishing the fire to lithium-ion EV batteries.
The carrier ship burned for six days before the flames finally began to “subside” with the help of two tugboats containing firefighting equipment which hosed down the ship.
All 22 crew members were rescued by the Portuguese navy. The ship was scheduled to arrive in Davisville, R.I., on Feb. 16, and the crew was transported via helicopter to Faial island in the Azores. None of them were hurt.
According to NPR, “Volkswagen confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that insurance has covered the loss of its vehicles, which could be at least $155 million. … The total estimated loss for all the cargo, which included Porsches, Bentleys, Lamborghinis and Volkswagens, is close to $440 million.”
The Possible Cause
As Car and Driver reports, cargo vessel fires are the third most common cause of shipping losses over the past decade, and there were 10 “total loss” cargo ship fires in 2020. “While, overall, the shipping industry has improved its safety record in the past 10 years, roll-on-roll-off (RORO) ferries are at high risk for fire.”
“To facilitate carriage of automobiles the internal spaces are not divided into separate sections like other cargo ships,” said Rahul Khanna, global head of marine risk consulting at Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, according to Car and Driver. “The lack of internal bulkheads can have an adverse impact on fire safety and a small fire on one vehicle or battery can grow out of control very quickly. Vehicles are not easily accessible once loading has been completed.”