After two weeks of smoking in the Atlantic Ocean, a cargo ship packed with many thousand German automobiles has finally sunk. Packed with over 4,000 cars from Volkswagen Group, the Felicity Ace originally gained fame for being a thriving fire rescue mission conducted in open waters. But it was later shown that an enormous number of the cars onboard were higher-end products from labels like Audi, Porsche, Bentley, and Lamborghini — making the recovery operation that followed likewise interesting.
Due to the massive size of the Felicity Ace, it would need to be pulled many hundred nautical miles back toward Portugal so it could be serviced. Crews arrived on February 25th to assess the ship and organize it for the trip back East. However, the cargo ship began listing until it started to fall onto its starboard side and is now considered unsalvageable. It’s believed that the craft will be sinking near its current position, approximately 220 nautical miles from off the Portuguese Azores, taking its vehicular cargo with.
While it’s been difficult getting timely or supportable 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 manage the salvage operation, the Felicity Ace flies a Panamanian flag, the Portuguese Navy and Air Force were responsible for the first rescue, and the tow vessels are mostly from the Netherlands.
The original plan was to use a gigantic 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 Portugal. Assistance was given by the ALP Guard and Dian Kingdom tugs, which flanked the ship. Despite the ship having continued burning 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 seem to be leaking oil, making it suitable for the trip.
But it started listing on Tuesday morning, with the premise being that it’s just a matter of time before it goes down. While this would be a meaningful setback for any automaker, the elevated number of premium vehicles has put Volkswagen Group in a problematic position. There are rumors that the sunk Lamborghinis will need the company to resume production of the V12 Aventador to make good on already placed orders. Several hundred custom Porsche and Bentley cars going for North America will also need to be made again.
The same goes for an army of Audi and VW-branded electric vehicles, though those cars were also going to be part of the following fire investigation after rampant speculation that the fire was created by their lithium-ion batteries. Rescuers haven’t attributed the blaze (first reported on Feb. 16th) to anything. But it was reported that EV batteries could have worsened the problem, enabling the media to muse over the potential of a thermal runaway incident starting the fire.
It’s a likely scenario, though one of many and still lacking any difficult evidence. Sadly, any useful data will likely go down with the ship — along with 189 Bentleys, over 1,000 Porsches, many dozen Lamborghinis, and huge numbers of VW and Audi cars.