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Stricken car carrier sinks: reports

Almost 4000 VW Group vehicles damaged by blaze have now been lost at sea


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2 Mar 2022

THE FELICITY ACE car carrier, which caught fire with nearly 4000 VW Group vehicles aboard near the coast of the Azores last month, has sunk.


Although the blaze had been brought under control and the Mitsui OSK Lines-owned ship was on tow, it suddenly started listing and went under. 


According to reports from Automotive News EuropeBloomberg, TradeWinds, and others, the 6400-ceu Felicity Ace was being towed by the tugboat Bear when the vessel went into a starboard list before sinking about 240nm (444km) south of the Azores.


Mitsui OSK Lines had earlier said that the fire onboard the Felicity Ace had died down, and that there had been no indication of any structural damage to vessel. However, it is believed that shifting cargo, or accumulation of water on the cargo decks, could have caused destabilisation.


“The weather was pretty rough out there,” MOL Ship Management spokesperson Pat Adamson said. “Then she sank, which was a surprise.”


There were three other tugboats in attendance when the Felicity Ace sank and although there was no indication of any pollution, MOL said it is monitoring the situation. The vessel was carrying fuel oil and other contaminants when it sank, but with the wreck likely resting thousands of metres under the sea, in the open ocean, any fuel leakage may quickly disperse, TradeWindsreported.


On board of the 17-year-old roll-on/roll-on vessel, which sailed under the Panamanian flag, were a total of 3965 new vehicles including Volkswagen models, approximately 189 Bentleys, 1100 Porsches, and “a number of Lamborghinis”, a Volkswagen Group spokesperson said at the time.


The vessel departed the port of Emden, Germany on February 10 and was scheduled to arrive in Davisville, Rhode Island, on February 23, but the fire broke out on February 16, which forced the evacuation of the ship’s crew of 22 by the Portuguese navy and Ponta Delgada Maritime Search and Rescue Coordination Centre. There were no injuries reported.


Last week, Reuters quoted João Mendes Cabeças, captain of the port in the Azorean island of Faial, as saying “the intervention (to put out the blaze) has to be done very slowly. It will take a while”.


Mr Cabeças said that because traditional water extinguishers could not stop lithium-ion batteries from burning, the EVs’ components were “keeping the fire alive”, adding that specialist equipment to extinguish the blaze was on the way. It was not clear what had started the fire.


Volkswagen declined to comment to Automotive News Europe (ANE) on Tuesday. The company had feared that large numbers (if not most) of the cars on the vessel would not be salvageable, with brands and dealers notifying customers that the US-bound vehicles likely wouldn’t be delivered. Damage to the cars is covered by insurance, the automaker had said last week.


In a projection (with the assumption that all vehicles would be lost), the risk-modelling company Russell Group estimated that the incident could cost the VW Group at least $155 million (A$213 million), Automotive News Europe reported. About $438 million (A$603 million) worth of goods were aboard the vessel (retail value), of which the cars were $401 million (A$564 million).

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