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Felicity Ace. Photo by the Portuguese Coast Guard.
12 Mar 2022

Burning ship carrying lithium EV cars sank outside of the Azores

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The cargo ship Felicity Ace, carrying thousands of cars, has sunk due to the fire onboard which occurred in mid February. The ship carried a large amount of electric cars, and the burning lithium on board is thought to have made extinguishing efforts much worse.     

In mid-February, a large fire broke out on the cargo  ship Felicity Ace, which transported thousands of cars to the United States - including an unknown number of electric cars that are believed to have made the situation worse.

The 200 meter long cargo ship Felicity Ace sank after a fire that broke out on board, and lasted for 13 days, reports the news agency AP. The ship was  transporting around 4,000 cars between Germany and the United States. The fire started on one of the cargo decks on February 16.

At the time, the ship was located about 100 kilometers from the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. The 22 crew members were able to be quickly evacuated without any injuries. When the ship sank, the fire had finally been extinguished, and Felicity Ace wasin the process of being towed towards shore.

When the ship sank, it was located about 40 km from the Azores, in an area where the depth could be up to 3,000 meters, according to the Washington Post.

The rescue effort was coordinated from the island of Faial in the archipelago of the Azores.

 

Lithium-ion batteries in the cars "keep the fire alive",

Joao Mendes Cabecas, who is the commanding officer of the port on the island, predicted that the fire would be difficult to fight successfully. According to Reuter´s news agency, he stated a few days into the fire that the lithium-ion batteries in the cars would "keep the fire alive".

Special equipment for extinguishing battery fires were reportedly at the time  on the way to the ship´s location.

It was not clear whether the batteries first sparked the fire.

"The ship is burning from one end to the other … everything is on fire about five meters above the water line," Joao Mendes Cabecas said to press outlets at the time. 

 

Felicity Ace on fire, photographed from a Portuguese coast guard helicopter.

Photos provided by the Portuguese maritime authority showed severe burns on the bow and along the 200-metre-long side of the ship, which according to Refinitiv data was built in 2005 and can carry 17,738 tonnes of weight.

Towing boats were provided from Gibraltar and the Netherlands  Cabecas said. He added the vessel could not be towed to the main port of the Azores because the size of the ship would block trade at the port.

A 16-person salvage team from Smit Salvage, owned by Dutch marine engineer Boskalis, was sent to the ship to help control the fire. 

What caused the fire is still unclear. CTIF is actively seeking information as to why the ship sank, along with lessons learned from the extinguishing efforts. 

 

A map of the incident.