cargo ship
Image: Portuguese Navy (Marinha Portuguesa)/Handout via REUTERS

As of Friday, a cargo ship carrying nearly 4,000 vehicles destined for the United States was on fire and adrift in the Atlantic Ocean. The vehicles were on their journey from the port of Emden, Germany to Davisville, Rhode Island when a fire began in the cargo hold and quickly spread, forcing all 22 crew members to abandon ship. 

The ship’s crew detected the fire while it was more than 1,000 miles offshore from Portugal, seven days into their 13-day crossing across the Atlantic. The Portuguese Navy confirmed that the crew was transported from the vessel to a hotel in a rescue coordinated by the Ponta Delgada Maritime Search and Rescue Coordination Center. While it burns, the ship’s owner, Mitsui O.S.K Lines, has arranged for it to be towed.

At 656 feet long and 106 feet wide, the Felicity Ace is capable of carrying as many as 5,232 cars and was at around 75% of her capacity on this trip. Reports say there are 1,100 Porsches, 189 Bentleys, and Audi and Volkswagen models plus potentially Lamborghinis to make up the balance.

Expectant car buyers awaiting news

This latest setback sets the dealers awaiting these vehicles back even further. Many of the cars on the massive vessel are pre-sold with their soon-to-be owners expecting their arrival in the coming weeks. 

Road & Track author Matt Farah confirmed a Porsche 718 Spyder on its way to him is aboard the boat, saying, “The dealer confirmed that my car, along with at least a dozen other vehicles they were expecting, is on that boat, They had no further information for me beyond confirming my car was on the boat, and said that as soon as Porsche Cars North America has a plan of any kind with how to proceed, that they would share the plans with me.”

With thousands of their vehicles threatened by the blaze and losses very likely piling up, Volkswagen issued a statement regarding the Felicity Ace fire. A spokesman for Volkswagen Group of America said they’re “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.”

A hit for dealers

Although the number of vehicles impacted on the ship is only a fraction of the sales volume in any given month, it adds pressure for VW Group to get vehicles into the hands of the customers waiting for their cars. Some people have been waiting months to receive their cars, or in the case of Lamborghinis, it could be even longer.

Porsche acknowledged the disruption and indicated that it’s still too soon to know the extent of the impact. 

Vice President of PR at Porsche Cars North America Angus Fitton said, “While it remains too early to confirm what occurred and next steps, we are – along with our colleagues at Porsche AG – supporting our customers and our dealers as best we can to find solutions. We are in contact with the shipping company and the details of the cars onboard are now known. Anyone concerned by this incident and the implications on the car they’ve ordered should contact their Porsche dealer.”

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