By Madison Muller (Bloomberg) —
The Felicity Ace, a massive cargo ship carrying thousands of Volkswagen Group vehicles, caught fire near the Azores islands in the Atlantic Ocean Wednesday afternoon.
The Panama-flagged ship’s 22 crewmembers were evacuated and taken to a local hotel by the Portuguese Navy and Air Force, who were deployed to help with the rescue effort, according to a statement from the Navy. The ship itself was left unmanned and adrift.
An internal email from Volkswagen AG’s U.S. operations revealed there were 3,965 vehicles aboard the ship. Headquartered in Wolfsburg, Germany, the group manufactures cars under brands including VW, Porsche, Audi and Lamborghini — all of which were in tow when the vessel set ablaze.
More than 100 of those cars were headed for the Port of Houston in Texas, with VW GTI, Golf R, and ID.4 models deemed to be at risk, according to the email. The auto industry is already struggling with supply issues, including pandemic-related staffing woes and the global chip shortage.
Luke Vandezande, a spokesperson for Porsche, said the company estimates around 1,100 of its vehicles were among those on board Felicity Ace at the time of the fire. He said customers affected by the incident are being contacted by their dealers. “Our immediate thoughts are of relief that the 22 crew of the merchant ship Felicity Ace are safe and well,” Vandezande said.
A spokesperson for Lamborghini’s U.S. operation declined to comment on the number of cars the company had on board or which models were affected, but said that they are in contact with the shipping company to get more information about the incident.
Some customers expressed their disappointment on social media. One Twitter user reported his custom spec’d Porsche Boxter Spyder was on board the ship. Standard models of the vehicle start around $99,650.
Felicity Ace is roughly the size of three football fields and was on its way to a port in Davisville, Rhode Island, when a distress signal was issued due to a fire on one of its cargo decks.
Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd, the operator of Felicity Ace, said it has commissioned a salvage company to assess the situation. An initial team arrived in the Azores and was expected to reach the ship later Friday. “Further salvage assets are being readied to attend the vessel,” the company said in a statement. “MOL will make every effort to contain the damage and resolve the situation as the main priorities.”
The registered owner of the vessel is Snowscape Car Carriers SA, and the protection and indemnity insurer is Britannia Steam Ship, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
It’s not the first time the VW group has lost vehicles at sea. When the Grande America caught fire and sank in 2019, more than 2,000 luxury cars, including Audis and Porsches, sank with it.(Updates with statement from the operator in the ninth paragraph.)
–With assistance from Monica Raymunt and Takashi Amano.
© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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