After two weeks of smoldering in the Atlantic Ocean, a cargo ship loaded with several thousand German automobiles has sunk. Packed with over 4,000 vehicles from Volkswagen Group, the Felicity Ace (pictured) originally gained notoriety for being a successful fire rescue mission conducted in open waters. But it was later revealed that a large number of the cars onboard were higher-end products from brands like Audi, Porsche, Bentley, and Lamborghini — making the salvage operation that followed likewise engaging.
Due to the immense size of the Felicity Ace, it would need to be towed several hundred nautical miles back toward Portugal so it could be serviced. Crews reportedly arrived on February 25th to evaluate the ship and prepare it for the trip back East. However, the cargo vessel began listing until it started to fall onto its starboard side and is now deemed unsalvageable. It’s assumed that the craft will be sinking near its current position, roughly 220 nautical miles from off the Portuguese Azores, taking its vehicular cargo along for the ride.
While it’s been hard getting timely or verifiable information on the ship, it does have a website dedicated to giving updates on its present status. Singapore’s MOL Ship Management has been helping to organize the salvage operation, the Felicity Ace flies a Panamanian flag, the Portuguese Navy and Air Force were responsible for the initial rescue, and the tow vessels are primarily from the Netherlands.
The original plan was to use a large salvage craft, called Bear, to haul the ship closer to the Azores so that it could be more thoroughly inspected before being towed back to the coast of Portugal. Assistance was given by the ALP Guard and Dian Kingdom tugs, which flanked the ship. Despite the ship having continued smoking for a number of days, it was assumed that the fire was dying down. Rescue teams had been spraying the vessel with water for days and the Felicity Ace did not appear to be leaking oil, making it eligible for the trip.
But it started listing on Tuesday morning, with the assumption being that it’s just a matter of time before it goes down. While this would be a meaningful setback for any automaker, the high number of premium vehicles has put Volkswagen Group in a difficult position. There are rumors that the lost Lamborghinis will require the company to resume production of the V12 Aventador to make good on existing orders. Several hundred custom Porsche and Bentley vehicles headed for North America will also need to be built again.
The same goes for a gaggle of Audi and VW-branded electric vehicles, though those cars were also going to be part of the subsequent fire investigation after rampant speculation that the blaze was created by their lithium-ion batteries. Rescuers haven’t attributed the blaze (first reported on Feb. 16th) to anything. But it was noted that EV batteries could have exacerbated the problem, encouraging the media to muse over the possibility of a thermal runaway incident starting the fire.
It’s a plausible scenario, though one of many and still lacking any hard evidence. Sadly, any useful information will likely go down with the ship — along with 189 Bentleys, over 1,000 Porsches, several dozen Lamborghinis, and rows upon rows of VW and Audi products.
[Image: Marinha Portuguesa/Portuguese Navy]
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