The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Cargo ship carrying thousands of luxury cars sinks after burning for weeks

The Felicity Ace is seen in this image supplied by the Portuguese navy. (Portuguese navy/Reuters)

A two-week transatlantic saga ended Tuesday with a massive ship — and thousands of luxury cars aboard — sinking about 250 miles off a Portuguese archipelago after catching fire.

Despite efforts to salvage what remained of the Felicity Ace, the ship and its nearly 4,000-vehicle cargo went down near the Azores Islands about 9 a.m. local time Tuesday, the Portuguese navy said in a statement.

“This morning, during the towing process, which had begun on Feb. 24, the ship ‘Felicity Ace’ lost stability and sank some 25 nautical miles outside of the limits of Portugal’s exclusive economic zone, in an area with a depth of about [9,842 feet],” the navy wrote in Portuguese.

Cargo ship carrying Porsches and Bentleys is burning and adrift at sea; tow boats on the way

The 650-foot-long vessel, operated by Japanese shipping line Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL), was traveling from Germany to Rhode Island when a fire started in the ship on Feb. 16.

Authorities tried to extinguish the flames, the ship’s 22-person crew was rescued, and no injuries were reported. What initially sparked the fire remains unknown.

MOL Ship Management said in a news release Friday that “the vessel has started being towed by the large salvage craft ‘Bear’ to a safe area off Azores.” That day, the Portuguese navy said experts had arrived by helicopter.

At the time, the ship appeared to have “no fires on the outside or inside, although there is a high temperature in the central area, with no smoke in its structure,” the navy said

The salvage crew on Tuesday faced “rough weather when the salvage team were first trying to get on board,” Pat Adamson, a spokesperson for MOL Ship Management, told The Washington Post.

“But we cannot say that the sinking was weather-related,” Adamson said.

The stranded ship had fueled concerns about the potential environmental damage to the Azores’ ecosystem, and it was unclear how its sinking may harm the area.

Set in the middle of the Atlantic, nearly 1,000 miles from another shore, the archipelago is home to coral reefs, tuna, sharks and dolphins. Its location along a number of seamounts makes it a key feeding ground for several migrating species such as blue and humpback whales, according to Oceano Azul Foundation, a Portugal-based environmental nonprofit organization.

European environmental groups and government agencies are monitoring the situation, the Portuguese navy said. The ship had been carrying about 2,200 tons of fuel and 2,200 tons of oil — along with other pollutants, such as metallic parts, plastics, electrical wires and paint.

The navy said a tugboat’s water jets were dispersing a “small patch of oily residue” in the area.

As for the luxury vehicles that plunged into the sea, car “brands are working with their dealers and customers to replace these vehicles and find individual solutions,” said Cameron Batten, chief communications officer for Volkswagen Group of America.

Inside America’s Broken Supply Chain

Nearly 4,000 Volkswagen Group cars, Batten said, were aboard the Felicity Ace — including about 1,100 Porsches and 200 Bentleys. According to an analysis by the Russell Group, a Britain-based risk management company, the estimated total value of goods on the ship was about $438 million, $400 million of which is the vehicles.

The Felicity Ace’s woes are another problem for the already-troubled global supply chain. Carmakers cut production as the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020, then the industry was hit with shortages in labor and computer chips for manufacturing. All of this taking place as freight takes longer to arrive and American ports face floating traffic jams of container ships.

Those problems show “the precariousness of global supply chains,” Suki Basi, Russell Group’s managing director, said in a news release. “The incident comes at a bad time for global carmakers who are in the middle of a supply chain crisis sourcing semiconductors, resulting in new delays for new cars.”

United States lifts Mexican avocado ban — averting what could have been a costly crisis

Angus Fitton, a spokesman for Porsche Cars North America, told The Post on Tuesday that the company is “supporting our customers as best we can,” and that new cars would be built soon.

For two weeks, Kay Murphy has watched from about 3,196 miles away in Jacksonville, Fla., as the ship carrying her Porsche burned, then sank. But a car is just a trinket, she said, in a world embroiled by a pandemic, a Russian invasion in Ukraine and other tragedies.

“My first concern was the ship’s crew,” Murphy said. “As my mother would say, ‘It’s just stuff.' With all the craziness going on in the world today, that seems more true than ever.”