A cargo ship carrying thousands of luxury cars sinks in the Atlantic

BERLIN — A cargo ship that caught fire last month with thousands of luxury vehicles on board sank on Tuesday morning, the ship’s management company said.

MOL Ship Management Singapore Pte Ltd, which owns the company that operates the ship, said the Felicity Ace sank about 220 nautical miles (253 miles) off Portugal’s Azores Islands around 9 a.m. local time after beginning to take on water and heading to the side to incline .

The 60,000-ton merchant ship flying the Panamanian flag is transporting around 4,000 luxury cars, including Porsche models,

Bentley, Audi, Lamborghini and other Volkswagen AG brands – caught fire in February and burned intensely for days.

SMIT Salvage, the Dutch company tasked with salvaging the ship, dispatched a team of large ocean-going tugs to the scene and towed the ship to safety as it sank.

Salvage crews and the Portuguese Navy had said the fire’s intensity could possibly be explained by a large number of electric vehicles on board. Some batteries are notoriously flammable and will burn at high temperatures when burned, making such a fire difficult to extinguish.

The Felicity Ace Fire is one of the first aboard a large vehicle transporter, loaded with a sizeable load of electric vehicles. The incident has sparked debate among insurers and regulators about how to safely transport such vehicles, an issue that will gain in urgency as electric vehicles become more widespread.

While the cause of the Felicity Ace fire may never be known because the ship is at the bottom of the ocean, experts say there is a risk that batteries in electric cars could short out and catch fire. This could mean that precautions not relevant to conventional vehicles need to be considered during transport, regulators say.

After the fire ended, Volkswagen had expected “that large parts of the almost 4,000 vehicles from several group brands would be so damaged in the ship fire that they could no longer be delivered”.

Volkswagen declined to comment on the value of the cargo.

The accident insurance experts at Russell Group Ltd. estimated that the cargo on board the Felicity Ace was worth about $438 million, of which the cars on board accounted for about $401 million. Russell estimates VW could face losses of at least $155 million.

The Felicity Ace, a cargo ship carrying thousands of cars, including Porsches and Bentleys, to the port of Davisville, RI, caught fire last week and was adrift in the middle of the Atlantic after the crew evacuated. Burning batteries from electric vehicles complicated efforts to fight the blaze. Photo: Portuguese Navy

write to William Boston at [email protected]

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