Ship carrying 4,000 luxury cars sinks in Atlantic after fire

After burning for almost two weeks, the abandoned cargo ship holding around US$401m (£295m) worth of supercars has sunk off the Azores Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean. 

Felicity Ace‘s cargo is said to be some 4,000 vehicles, including Porsches, Audis, Lamborghinis and Bentleys.

The Panama-flagged ship caught fire in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean last month, while travelling from Embden, Germany to Rhode Island, US. All 22 crew members were safely evacuated on the same day.

However, lithium-ion batteries in the electric vehicles on board kept the fire burning. Firefighters were only able to tackle the fire from the outside by cooling down the ship’s structure as it was too dangerous to go onboard. They also couldn’t use water, because traditional water extinguishers do not stop lithium-ion batteries from burning.

A salvage team boarded the drifting ship by helicopter and eventually put the fire out, the ship’s manager MOL Ship Management says in a statement. A tow line was connected and a salvage tug began towing it to the Azores. The Felicity Ace listed to starboard and then sank while being towed.

The 200-metre-long car carrier now lies around about 400 kilometres off the Portuguese Azores Islands, and 46km outside the limit of the Economic Zone of Portugal.

The Portuguese Navy reports “some debris and oily waste” had been recorded on the site, which is being monitored by the National Maritime Authority in Portugal and the European Maritime Security Agency (EMSA). ”The Navy continues to monitor the situation,” it says, adding that navy divers and pollution combat equipment, such as ocean barriers, are being deployed. 

There are now fears that the vessel could cause considerable pollution in the ocean. The ship was reportedly carrying 2,000 metric tonnes of fuel and 2,000 metric tonnes of oil.

A Portuguese air force plane and a Portuguese navy vessel have been deployed at the site of the wreck, to look out for signs of pollution.

There has been no official comment yet from European carmakers on which exact models were on board, and how many, but analysis by risk modelling company Russell estimates the value of goods onboard at around US$438m, including US$401m of vehicles.

Angus Fitton, vice-president of PR at Porsche Cars North America, told the Associated Press in an email: “We are already working to replace every car affected by this incident and the first new cars will be built soon.” 

One Twitter user posted that his custom-ordered Porsche Boxster Spyder was on Felicity Ace. Base models of the vehicle sell for US$100,000.

Built in 2005, the Felicity Ace is operated by Japanese shipping company MOL and owned by its subsidiary, Snowscape Car Carriers S.A.

SMIT Salvage, which is part of Dutch marine company Boskalis, was the appointed salvor.

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