Electric cars burning aboard ship full of Porsches, VWs, Bentleys [UPDATED]

The crew was safely evacuated; towing vessels are on their way

Update: The Felicity Ace, which caught fire near the coast of the Azores, will be towed to another European country or the Bahamas, the captain of the nearest port told Reuters on Friday.

Lithium-ion batteries in the electric cars on board have caught fire, and the blaze requires specialized equipment to extinguish, captain Joao Mendes Cabecas of the port of Hortas said. The source of the fire is still unknown.

"The ship is burning from one end to the other ... everything is on fire about five meters above the water line," Cabeças said.

Tow boats were en route from Gibraltar and the Netherlands, with three due to arrive by Wednesday, Cabecas said. He added the vessel could not be towed to the Azores because it was so big it would block trade at the port.

The original story continues below.


Panama-flagged car carrier Felicity Ace caught fire in the Atlantic Ocean while transporting approximately 2,500 cars, including roughly 1,100 Porsches and an undetermined number of Volkswagens. The ship's 22 crewmembers were rescued by the Portuguese Navy, but the fate of the cars remains unknown.

"Our immediate thoughts are of relief that the 22 crew of the merchant ship “Felicity Ace” are safe and well," Porsche spokesperson Luke Vandezande told Autoblog. "A number of our cars are among the cargo. We are in contact with the shipping company and the details of the cars on board are now known," he said. "Customers affected by the incident are being contacted by their dealer."

"While it remains too early to confirm what occurred and next steps, we are – along with our colleagues at Porsche AG – supporting our customers and our dealers as best we can to find solutions," Vandezande said. "Anyone concerned by this incident and the implications on the car they’ve ordered should maintain in contact with dealer with which their order was placed."

Vandezande confirmed that Porsche models accounted for approximately 1,100 of the 2,500 vehicles thought to be on board. He could not speak to the origin or breakdown of any other makes or models in the ship's hold, but fan site notes that the ship's previous manifests reflect a long history of delivering vehicles for VW Group, and some customers tracking incoming ID.4 deliveries say their information suggests that their cars may have been on board. 

Felicity Ace was sailing from Emden, Germany, to Davisville in Rhode Island when a fire broke out on one of its decks. While it's still too early to tell what caused the fire, it was serious enough that it couldn't be put out using the equipment that the crew had access to on board. The ship sent out a distress signal south of the Portuguese-owned Faial Island, which is almost in the middle of the Atlantic, and nearby vessels (including an oil tanker named Resilient Warrior) rushed to the scene to rescue the crewmembers, some already on life boats, before the Portuguese Navy arrived. It doesn't sound like anyone was seriously hurt, though details about the incident are still emerging.

Website FleetMon learned that, as of February 16, the 656-foot-long ship was abandoned and drifting east. It adds that tug boats will be dispatched to tow the Felicity Ace to a harbor and that the ship will most likely be declared a total loss due to the damage caused by the fire.

Portugal's Navy published a series of photos taken on the deck of an oil tanker that show the ship burning in the distance, flames and smoke visible, and it confirmed in a statement that the Felicity Ace was carrying cars. Several sources said most of the vehicles in the hold were new Porsche and Volkswagen models. "We are aware of an incident aboard the Felicity Ace, a specialized cargo ship carrying certain Porsche vehicles," the Stuttgart-based company told some of its customers according to screen shots posted on enthusiast forum Rennlist.

If this story sounds familiar, it's likely because over 2,000 cars built by Audi and Porsche (including four 911 GT2 RS models headed to customers in Brazil) were lost when an Italian container ship called "Grande America" caught fire and sank off of the French Atlantic coast in 2019. Rather than refund the buyers, Porsche chose to put the limited-edition 911 GT2 RS back into production to rebuild the lost units.

Built in Japan in 2005, the Felicity Ace is equipped specifically to carry cars; it's not configured to transport other types of cargo. It's about twice as long as a football field, 105 feet wide, and its deadweight tonnage (payload for ships, essentially) checks in at almost 20,000 tons.

Stay tuned for more on this developing story.

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