By on February 18, 2022

A massive cargo ship, responsible for ferrying high-end Volkswagen Group products from Europe to the United States, has reportedly caught fire and is now adrift in the Atlantic Ocean.

Currently said to be smoldering at least one-thousand miles off the coast of Portugal, the crew of the Felicity Ace (not pictured) has been evacuated while the sweet treasures contained within remain trapped aboard. Included are about 1,100 Porsches, 189 Bentleys, and a gaggle of Lamborghinis. The remainder of the nearly 4,000 vehicles tucked beneath the the ship’s 650-foot deck are said to be comprised primarily of Audi and VW-branded automobiles. 

The boat departed the German port of Emden on February 10th with an itinerary that would have placed it at The Port of Davisville, Rhode Island, on February 23rd. From there, it was supposed to head toward the Gulf of Mexico.

A spokesman for Volkswagen Group of America has confirmed the situation, saying that the company was “aware of an incident involving a third-party cargo ship transporting Volkswagen Group vehicles across the Atlantic. The vessel was on its way to North America. At this time, we are not aware of any injuries. We are in contact with the shipping company to get more information about the incident.”

As reported by Bloomberg, the ship’s crew have been completely evacuated and placed in a local hotel by the Portuguese Navy and Air Force. However, the boat itself is presently enflamed and adrift with nobody aboard.

From Bloomberg:

An internal email from Volkswagen’s U.S. operations revealed there were 3,965 Volkswagen AG vehicles aboard the ship. Headquartered in Wolfsburg, Germany, the group manufactures vehicles under brands including Volkswagen, 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 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.

Now is not a great time to lose inventory to the ocean — not that there’s ever a good time. But inventories are incredibly tight and prices are beyond ridiculous. Many of the cars on the ship undoubtedly have customers that have been waiting eagerly for months. Bloomberg made reference to “one Twitter user,” who turned out to be The Smoking Tire’s Matt Farah, that reported his custom Porsche would not be making it to his garage.

“The Boxster Spyder with Deman 4.5 motor and shorty gears is the best sports car of all time, hands down,” Farah wrote. “I had it specced [sic] exactly as I wanted it. There is no moving on.”

I’m sure someone who owns a private garage brimming with collectible automobiles (though not all his) will somehow manage to get through this tragedy. However, the situation in the Atlantic remains a real bummer for all parties involved. Porsche said it would be supporting customers and dealers however it can, suggesting that anyone concerned by the incident and the possible implications of a car they’ve ordered should contact their dealer.

Video pertaining to the event has been a little confusing though. Rescue footage shows men being lowered on the deck of the Felicity Ace sans smoke. However, their approach clearly shows the vessel emitting gray plumes from its rear. It’s not clear whether clips shared by the Portuguese Air Force and Navy were sequenced out of order or if the ship’s fire was temporarily suppressed.

On Thursday, the Navy said it’s not detecting any pollutants and has been evaluating whether or not the boat is in immediate danger of sinking. Assuming it isn’t, the plan is to tow the Felicity Ace to the nearest port that’s large enough to take her and determine the full extent of the damage. That places the status of the vehicles fairly low on everybody’s list of priorities. But there remain a lot of unknown, and potentially dangerous, factors that need to be dealt with before anybody is going to want to bother crawling below deck just to check on the cargo.

[Image: SugaBom86/Shutterstock]

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48 Comments on “Premium German Cars Heading to U.S. Now Trapped at Sea...”

  • avatar

    Whenever I think the wait for the MX-5 is too long, this is a solid reminder that it could be A LOT worse!!!

    Coming soon to your local BHPH lot – “minor” flood and fire damaged VWs and Audis, cheap, don’t check out the title, and ready to move today! We’ll even throw in one of those fraud auto plans that Ric Flair pitched until the world found out he’s a creep. Don’t mind the slight salt water aroma each time your climate control kicks on.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m waiting to see if they’ll crush ’em all as Mazda did with the 4,000 or so Mazdas on that capsized ship some years ago. Having worked for the Germans for several years I believe it could go either way…

      • 0 avatar

        @bullnuke – if they manage to get the ship back before it decides to become a reef in a few years, I have to think VW will have to. At least save the computer chips. Those are worth more now than any custom Bentley leather packages.

        2021 and now 2022 is just shaping up to be an ongoing nightmare with anyone getting a car. Tornado hits the Corvette plant. Chip and parts shortages shut down plants that can’t afford to be shut like the Ford plant that makes the Bronco. Almost zero inventory. And now even Bentley and Lamborghini can’t escape the hell these past 18 months have been.

        • 0 avatar

          @theflyersfan Due to potential legal liability issues, I imagine nothing will escape being escape being scrapped or recycled. That was what drove Mazda to do just that in the case of the Cougar Ace.

          • 0 avatar

            @dukeisduke – very true and your comment reminded me (and I don’t know how much is true) – Ford has moved most if not all (I’ll find out this weekend when I go by) of the trucks parked at the Kentucky Speedway. Why? Rodents. Mice and other critters were nesting in the trucks and damaging wires and other fragile connections. So there’s a real chance that repairs will have to take place on these trucks before they can ever be sold. I do recall the Mazda airbag video as well. Too many good cars scrapped…

      • 0 avatar

        You’re talking about the Cougar Ace (4,703 brand new Mazdas, including the first US shipment of the CX-9). Car and Driver published an excellent article. Mazda built a custom box that when plugged in to the cars’ SRS ECUs would fire every airbag simultaneously. They also scrapped or recycled every part, all the way down to the lug nuts, which were put in 5-gallon buckets. Mazda wasn’t happy that pictures taken of the cars in the hold got out into the public, and C/D wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the cars going up the belt into the shredder. IIRC, they had to shoot pictures from a distance, like from a hotel.

        • 0 avatar

          A correction to my post (I was just going off of memory). The airbags fired in quick succession (not simultaneously), and Mazda North America supplied C/D with a video of the airbag firing and vehicle recycling process.

          • 0 avatar

            Resume entry:

            “2007-09: Mass Airbag Detonator, Mazda USA”

          • 0 avatar

            That Mazda destroyed all those cars is a shame and a horrible waste. I understand the liability stuff, but the cars could have had their VINs invalidated and the cars could have been donated to vocational schools for training. Instead, we filled the landfills with more crap.

    • 0 avatar

      According to the Wall Street Journal a lot of electric cars are now on fire. Oh my goodness. This is not good news for the fate of the vehicles.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “It’s not clear whether clips shared by the Portuguese Air Force and Navy were sequenced out of order or if the ship’s fire was temporarily suppressed.”

    VAG has special software to deal with that smoke.

  • avatar

    Having served 13 years at sea I can tell you that there was nothing I feared more than a fire onboard. Nothing. There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. As every Marine is a rifleman, thus every Sailor is a firefighter. Thank God the crew got off safely.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep. Nothing will f**k a warship quicker than fire.

      My understanding is that it’s even more hardcore with the sailors on subs.

  • avatar

    Does this mean Porsche dealers will have to resort to selling ex-Avis Mitsubishis?

  • avatar

    Just glad the crew is OK. As noted by a couple comments above, fire on open ocean is one of the scariest imaginable things.

    Matt Farah will probably make the price of his Boxster back through making videos about the delay and the process.

  • avatar

    Let’s do a study who gets electrical gremlins quicker. Saltwater flooded high end German Luxury cars, or pristine ones with no prior damage. $1 to start the betting.

    • 0 avatar

      If it’s a chemical fire, initial fire suppression wouldn’t use sea water. We also don’t know where the fire is, whether in the cargo holds or lower, in the crew spaces or engine/power spaces.

      If the fire is not in the cargo hold and the ship doesn’t sink, there should be no damage to cargo. If the source was one of the ID.4 models, and they manage to put the fire out, the least damaged vehicle would have extensive smoke damage, and the heat generated by the fire could have totaled every vehicle in that hold. There should be several separate holds to limit the effect of shifting cargo.

      Bottom line; no cars damaged, some cars damaged, most cars damaged, or all cars damaged, are possibilites, but none by sea water. The ship would have to sink, and near the Azores, the water is 7k-10k feet deep. Nothing would be salvageable from that depth.

  • avatar

    Doutsche uber alles…

  • avatar
    Undead Zed

    Coming soon to a dealer lot near you:

  • avatar

    Some quick arithmetic and I figure if this is a total loss it could be close to $400K or $500K. I hope VW has some good insurance. If not that would amount to around 2.5% of annual VW net profit (which was $21 billion for 2021). Probably not tremendously significant but not good.

  • avatar

    I wonder if there are pirates in US waters given the high level of lawlessness in the country? How modern ship in civilized country can catch fire of the magnitude shown on photo? Was there attack on the ship? Molotov cocktail? Snatch and grab?

  • avatar

    Yet another reason not to buy an EV. They burst into flames easier than ICE vehicles.

    • 0 avatar

      @EBFlex: Uh, no they don’t. Urban myth, plain and simple.

    • 0 avatar

      “They burst into flames easier than ICE vehicles.”

      EV fires make the news more frequently, but they catch fire less frequently — both per car and per mile.

      The intuitive basic-principles answer is the correct answer, in this case:
      A 200lb can full of a volatile flammable liquid is, in fact, a bigger fire risk than a big battery filled with caustic chemicals. The vehicle which requires fire to move is more likely to catch fire.

      Just because it’s intuitive doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Common sense works, at least when you have the appropriate context.

      Mental gymnastics not required.

  • avatar

    EBflex how can you be your age and not know anything?

  • avatar

    My order for a Mk8 Golf R may be a little longer…

  • avatar
    Michael S6

    Maybe a good time to get a smoking hot deal on a VW.

  • avatar

    On the other hand, incidences of panic braking caused by cars using the off ramp lane to pass before cutting back into traffic will likely go way down.

  • avatar

    EV’s causing environmental damage.

    Can’t put the EV fire out

  • avatar

    So I’m wondering… Which has more climate impact, this ship that’s burning out of control, or the gas guzzling lux vehicles that will never be driven?

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