A massive cargo ship, responsible for ferrying high-end Volkswagen Group products from Europe to the United States, has reportedly caught fire and is now adrift in the Atlantic Ocean.
Currently said to be smoldering at least one-thousand miles off the coast of Portugal, the crew of the Felicity Ace (not pictured) has been evacuated while the sweet treasures contained within remain trapped aboard. Included are about 1,100 Porsches, 189 Bentleys, and a gaggle of Lamborghinis. The remainder of the nearly 4,000 vehicles tucked beneath the the ship’s 650-foot deck are said to be comprised primarily of Audi and VW-branded automobiles.
The boat departed the German port of Emden on February 10th with an itinerary that would have placed it at The Port of Davisville, Rhode Island, on February 23rd. From there, it was supposed to head toward the Gulf of Mexico.
A spokesman for Volkswagen Group of America has confirmed the situation, saying that the company was “aware of an incident involving a third-party cargo ship transporting Volkswagen Group vehicles across the Atlantic. The vessel was on its way to North America. At this time, we are not aware of any injuries. We are in contact with the shipping company to get more information about the incident.”
As reported by Bloomberg, the ship’s crew have been completely evacuated and placed in a local hotel by the Portuguese Navy and Air Force. However, the boat itself is presently enflamed and adrift with nobody aboard.
An internal email from Volkswagen’s U.S. operations revealed there were 3,965 Volkswagen AG vehicles aboard the ship. Headquartered in Wolfsburg, Germany, the group manufactures vehicles under brands including Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi and Lamborghini — all of which were in tow when the vessel set ablaze.
More than 100 of those cars were headed for the Port of Houston in Texas, with GTI, Golf R, and ID.4 models deemed to be at risk, according to the email. The auto industry is already struggling with supply issues, including pandemic-related staffing woes and the global chip shortage.
Luke Vandezande, a spokesperson for Porsche, said the company estimates around 1,100 of its vehicles were among those on board Felicity Ace at the time of the fire. He said customers affected by the incident are being contacted by their dealers. “Our immediate thoughts are of relief that the 22 crew of the merchant ship Felicity Ace are safe and well,” Vandezande said.
Now is not a great time to lose inventory to the ocean — not that there’s ever a good time. But inventories are incredibly tight and prices are beyond ridiculous. Many of the cars on the ship undoubtedly have customers that have been waiting eagerly for months. Bloomberg made reference to “one Twitter user,” who turned out to be The Smoking Tire’s Matt Farah, that reported his custom Porsche would not be making it to his garage.
“The Boxster Spyder with Deman 4.5 motor and shorty gears is the best sports car of all time, hands down,” Farah wrote. “I had it specced [sic] exactly as I wanted it. There is no moving on.”
I’m sure someone who owns a private garage brimming with collectible automobiles (though not all his) will somehow manage to get through this tragedy. However, the situation in the Atlantic remains a real bummer for all parties involved. Porsche said it would be supporting customers and dealers however it can, suggesting that anyone concerned by the incident and the possible implications of a car they’ve ordered should contact their dealer.
Video pertaining to the event has been a little confusing though. Rescue footage shows men being lowered on the deck of the Felicity Ace sans smoke. However, their approach clearly shows the vessel emitting gray plumes from its rear. It’s not clear whether clips shared by the Portuguese Air Force and Navy were sequenced out of order or if the ship’s fire was temporarily suppressed.
On Thursday, the Navy said it’s not detecting any pollutants and has been evaluating whether or not the boat is in immediate danger of sinking. Assuming it isn’t, the plan is to tow the Felicity Ace to the nearest port that’s large enough to take her and determine the full extent of the damage. That places the status of the vehicles fairly low on everybody’s list of priorities. But there remain a lot of unknown, and potentially dangerous, factors that need to be dealt with before anybody is going to want to bother crawling below deck just to check on the cargo.
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