Fire Subsides on Huge Cargo Ship Adrift in Mid-Atlantic

By Barry Hatton | February 23, 2022

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A fire aboard a ship carrying cars in the mid-Atlantic is dying out, a Portuguese navy officer said Tuesday, and the huge vessel is expected to be towed to the Bahamas.

The blaze on the Felicity Ace has burned for six days near Portugal’s Azores Islands. A Portuguese Air Force helicopter evacuated the 22 crew members last week, leaving the 200-meter-long (650-foot-long) vessel adrift.

Two ocean-going tugboats with firefighting equipment have hosed down the ship’s hull to cool it, according to the port of Horta harbormaster, Capt. Joao Mendes Cabecas, on the Azores island of Faial,

Two more tugboats were expected to arrive by the end of the week, he told The Associated Press.

The cause of the fire is not known, Mendes Cabecas said, though suspicion has fallen on lithium batteries in electric vehicles the Felicity Ace was taking from Germany to the United States.

“We know from what the captain told us that there were a lot of electric vehicles on board, as well as non-electric vehicles,” he said.

The fire broke out on a cargo deck where the vehicles were stowed, according to Mendes Cabecas, but when the alarm went off there was already too much smoke to make out where the blaze had started.

Flames were no longer visible from outside Tuesday, and the ship is stable, he said. A salvage crew hopes to get aboard the ship on Wednesday and hook up a tow line.

Volkswagen Group has said the ship was transporting vehicles that the German automaker produced but has provided no more details.

Mendes Cabecas said Portuguese authorities did not have access to the ship’s manifest so he couldn’t say how many vehicles were on board nor what make they were.

The Felicity Ace can carry more than 17,000 metric tons (18,700 tons) of cargo. Typically, car transport ships fit thousands of vehicles on multiple decks in their hold.

Mendes Cabecas said there was currently no threat of pollution. Hoses are not being aimed inside the vessel, to avoid runoff from lithium batteries going into the sea.

The ship is carrying 2,000 metric tons (2,200 tons) of fuel and 2,000 metric tons (2,200 tons) of oil.

The weather in the area, 190 nautical miles (350 kilometers/220 miles) south of the Azores, is fair, with a swell of less than 2 meters (6.5 feet).

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