- The ship that caught fire Wednesday with around 4000 vehicles on board is still ablaze and adrift in the Atlantic Ocean today.
- Firefighters are on their way to the ship, which might—repeat, might—be challenging to put out because of some electric vehicles on board. We have no idea yet what caused the fire.
- Whatever caused the blaze, the kinds of roll-on-roll-off (RORO) ferries that can transport thousands of cars at once are at high risk for total loss once a fire starts on board.
The Felicity Ace, the cargo ship that is still on fire in the Atlantic Ocean, does have thousands of new vehicles from the Volkswagen Group on board, but the impact of any electric vehicles is not yet known.
To recap, the car carrier was on the way from Europe to the U.S. with a load of new vehicles on board when it caught fire Wednesday near the Azores. All 22 crew members were rescued, and the ship was left adrift and burning. There were reports that the ship would be towed to the Azores, but the 650-foot-long ship is too big for the port of Horta there. The ship is likely to be towed back to Europe or to the Bahamas, Captain Joao Mendes Cabecas from Port of Horta told Reuters.
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Firefighting crews and salvage teams are on their way to deal with the massive fire, which could be more difficult to get under control with EV batteries on board. There is no confirmation yet that this is the case, but it is likely that EVs were part of the cargo. Both Porsche and VW import some vehicles from Europe to the U.S., but as VW only imports the GTI, Golf R, and ID.4 from Europe, the automaker most likely to be affected is Porsche, which imports the Taycan from the plant in Zuffenhausen, Germany. A Porsche spokesperson told Car and Driver, "It is too early to speculate on the cause of the incident."
Lamborghini declined to give a comment to C/D, but a VW spokesperson told us that the U.S. arm doesn’t know much more about the situation on the ship other than what’s available in media reports. Bloomberg, which managed to get access to an internal email from Volkswagen AG's U.S. operations, reported there were 3965 vehicles on board. Around 100 of the vehicles are apparently VW models destined for the U.S.
Porsche spokesperson Luke Vandezande told Bloomberg that the automaker estimates it had around 1100 vehicles on the Felicity Ace, and 189 Bentleys have also been confirmed as being part of the cargo list.
The software company Skytek issued a short report today that claims the estimated market value of the Felicity Ace is $24.5 million, while the total value of the 3965 vehicles could be over $500 million.
Cargo vessel fires were the number three cause of shipping losses over the past decade, and there were 10 "total loss" cargo ship fires in 2020, according to Reinsurance News. While, overall, the shipping industry has improved its safety record in the past 10 years, roll-on-roll-off (RORO) ferries are at high risk for fire.
"To facilitate carriage of automobiles the internal spaces are not divided into separate sections like other cargo ships," said Rahul Khanna, global head of marine risk consulting at Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, told Reinsurance News. "The lack of internal bulkheads can have an adverse impact on fire safety and a small fire on one vehicle or battery can grow out of control very quickly. Vehicles are not easily accessible once loading has been completed."
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