Abandoned cargo ship highlights dangers of electric car battery fires

25 February 2022

The abandoned cargo ship that caught fire in the Atlantic carrying Euros 352million (£295m) worth of cars, including Porsche, Audi, Bentley and Lamborghini models, remains a hazard and has highlighted the risks associated with shipping large quantities of electric car batteries.


Felicity Ace, a specialist cargo ship carrying more than 4,000 cars, caught alight near the Azores. The vessel’s 22 crew members were evacuated but the fire continued to burn for several days, fuelled by lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles on board.


Insurance experts have estimated that Euros 389m ($438m) of goods were on the ship and the incident highlights the precariousness of global supply chains. It also comes at a time when there is a crisis in sourcing semiconductors for car manufacturers


The Anderson Economic Group, which specialises in public policy, business valuation, and market and industry analysis, reported that; "The lost Porsche vehicles alone, which we assume are 1,100 vehicles including many customized high-end models, would exceed Euros 124m ($140m). We further anticipate salvage costs in excess of Euros 133m ($150m). Similar disasters in the recent past suggests total losses for this incident may not be realised for a year or more and could be far above the value of the lost cargo.”


Significantly, Anderson's report also raised questions about future risks of shipping electric vehicles. “This incident underscores another safety warning about electric vehicles," the report said. "EVs rely on very large batteries with unusual fire risks.


"We do not yet know whether the EV batteries caused the fire, or if they were ignited with the rest of the ship. In either case, the dire situation demonstrates a need to make potentially expensive safety investments to handle a future of extensive EV deliveries."


The ship’s operator, MOL Ship Management (Singapore) said that the vessel was “still assumed to remain on fire south of the Azores, drifting further away from the islands.”


It said two firefighting tugboats were due to arrive at the site of the ship and would “start spraying water to Felicity Ace together with the patrol boat with the initial salvage team onboard already on site to cool down the heat from the vessel.”


The company said the ship remained stable and was not leaking oil. Another salvage craft with firefighting equipment is due to arrive shortly from Rotterdam.


João Mendes Cabeças, the captain of the nearest port in the Azorean Island of Faial, told Reuters over the weekend that lithium-ion batteries in the electric vehicles were “keeping the fire alive”, adding that specialist equipment was required to extinguish it. It was not clear whether the batteries sparked the fire.


Felicity Ace was travelling from Emden, Germany, where Volkswagen has a factory, to Davisville, Rhode Island, according to the website MarineTraffic.


VW has not commented on how many of its cars were on the ships. The automotive enthusiast website The Drive reported that the ship was carrying 189 Bentleys.


W Denis can arrange worldwide cargo insurance, for more information visit www.wdenis.eu or contact Vida Jarašiūnaitė vida.jarasiunaite@wdenis.eu or Mark Dutton mark.dutton@wdenis.com

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