Salvage Tugs Arrive to Fight Fire Aboard Burning Ro/Ro Felicity Ace

Felicity Ace
Felicity Ace, February 20 (Portuguese Navy)

Published Feb 24, 2022 5:50 PM by The Maritime Executive

Two large salvage tugs have arrived on scene to fight the fire aboard the burning car carrier Felicity Ace, operator MOL said in an update Thursday. 

The Felicity Ace was under way from Emden, Germany -  a major loading port for Volkswagen brands - to Davisville, Rhode Island, and a fire broke out while she was transiting south of the Azores. Her master called for an evacuation on February 16, and the crew was safely rescued by a merchant tanker and transferred to shore. 

Two large tugs are on scene and applying cooling water to the hull. An additional two salvage vessels are bringing more firefighting equipment to the scene, and they are expected to arrive on February 24. White smoke is still coming from the vessel's vents, but not in the volume seen in previous days, MOL said. 

The cost of the casualty is not yet fully known, but cost estimates have climbed since the incident began. The ship was carrying roughly 4,000 cars, including Lamborghinis, Audis and VWs, based on an internal Volkswagen Group email obtained by German media. The manifest included 1,100 Porsches and about 190 Bentleys, many of them custom-ordered, and risk consultancy Russell Group believes that the total cargo loss will top $400 million. 

According to Car and Driver and Automotive News, dozens of high-value Lamborghini supercars are on board, including the Huracan and the relatively rare Aventador, which can cost up to $825,000 each. 

"The [Aventador] is sold out, so there is always a possibility out of 563 units that some cancellation can allow an Aventador replacement, but I prefer to hope for the time being that at least the few Aventadors on the ship will be safe," said the CEO of Automobili Lamborghini America, Andrea Baldi, speaking to Automotive News. "We don't yet know the final outcome."

In imagery from the scene, sections of burned hull coating indicate the areas where the fire inside Felicity Ace burned hottest, and the damage appears to extend the full length of the ship above the level of the ramp deck. Responders are spraying down the exterior of the hull with water for cooling, but no effort has yet been made to fight the fire from the inside. The cargo includes all-electric vehicles powered by large lithium-ion battyer packs; water is a poor fire-extinguishing medium for Li-ion cells, and the batteries emit toxic, explosive gases as they combust. 

"MOL, MOL Ship Management (Singapore), and the salvage team are cooperating fully with local authorities and resources from the Azores to find an early solution to this incident," the shipping company said in a statement.