Last week, we reported on how Felicity Ace – a 650-foot-long car carrier containing thousands of luxury vehicles including Porsches, Bentleys, Audis and other Volkswagen Group vehicles (including Lamborghinis, we can now confirm) – had mysteriously caught ablaze in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, near the Azores. Read that story here.
It’s a bit of a catastrophe. In a press release sent out on Monday, British insurance firm Russell Group has estimated that around US$438 million worth of goods were on the ship, including US$401 million of cars and goods vehicles. They’ve calculated that Volkswagen will sustain US$155 million of losses from the incident, too. Ouch.
What’s even worse is that the fire is still burning. While the Portuguese air force has been able to successfully evacuate the ship’s crew, the ship’s cargo, the Portuguese navy and firefighters haven’t been able to put out Felicity Ace’s flames.
While it’s still a mystery how the fire started, what isn’t a mystery is why it’s still burning. Turns out the ship was carrying a bunch of electric vehicles (EVs) – and they’re what’s complicating the whole situation.
João Mendes Cabeças, captain of the nearest port in the Azorean island of Faial, has told Reuters that lithium-ion batteries in the EVs on board the ship are “keeping the fire alive,” and specialist equipment is needed. to help put out these battery fires.
The dilemma facing firefighters is threefold. Firefighting teams have so far only been able to fight the fire from outside by cooling down Felicity Ace’s structure as it’s still too dangerous to go on board.
They can’t use water because adding weight to the ship could make it more unstable, and traditional water extinguishers do not stop lithium-ion batteries from burning, the report elaborates.
While EVs are widely considered safer than conventional internal combustion-engined (ICE) vehicles – they’re not filled with things like petrol and oil – the liquid electrolytes in lithium-ion (or ‘li-ion’) batteries are volatile and also potentially flammable. An external force such as a car crash or a manufacturing fault can also lead to chemical leakage.
Let’s be clear: it’s yet to be determined whether or not an EV or EVs caused the Felicity Ace fire, but batteries that have since caught alight are certainly keeping it going.
In a statement, the ship’s operator, MOL Ship Management (Singapore) has said the ship “remains stable” and that it’s not leaking oil, but that it is drifting further away from the Azores. Hardly a pretty picture.
Let’s just hope that they’re able to extinguish the flames and start to salvage the vessel… If not to recover the valuable cars that are stuck inside, but to prevent an environmental tragedy. All in all, it’s a bit of a shitshow. We’d rather it was Putin’s superyacht that was on fire…