Felicity Ace car carrier fire set to push up marine insurance costs

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Image: Portuguese Navy

Volkswagen AG has come far from the days of the beloved air-cooled bug. These days its portfolio includes brands such as Bentley and Lamborghini. That means that the fire still burning aboard the MOL car carrier Felicity Ace could soon join the list of very expensive maritime casualties, pushing up the costs of marine insurance.

On February 16, the car carrier was en route for the Port of Davisville, R.I., from Emden, Germany with a shipment of Volkswagen AG luxury vehicles when a fire broke out that forced the crew to abandon the vessel. They were picked up by the nearby tanker Resilient Warrior and subsequently airlifted to safety by a Portuguese Air Force.

Since then the vessel has been drifting and Dublin-based Skytek says, in an analysis of the incident, that “after a few days of uncontrolled burning, there are fears that the vessel and its cargo may be written off as a total loss.”

Skytek, which uses geolocation, satellite imagery and big data to provide underwriters and brokers with insights into risks, says that “the estimated market value of the Felicity Ace is $24.5 million. The 3,965 cars onboard are confirmed to be 189 Bentleys, along with brands like Porsche, Audi, and Lamborghini, with a starting value from $99,650 that could exceed a total of $500 million.”

As we reported earlier, some of the cars on board are electric vehicles with lithium-ion batteries. A Reuters report quoted the captain of the port in Faial, Azores, as saying that the lithium-ion batteries were “keeping the fire alive,” and that “traditional water extinguishers do not stop lithium-ion batteries from burning.”

SITUATION UPDATE​

In an update on the situation released today, MOL Ship Management (Singapore) said the vessel was still understood to remain on fire, drifting south of the Azores.

“Currently,” says MOL Ship Management, “there is no oil leakage confirmed from the vessel, and the stability of the vessel remains stable.

“Two large tugs have now arrived on scene from Gibraltar and are spraying the vessel with water to achieve hull and boundary cooling.

“The two tugs will also assist to control the position of the car carrier prior to inspection by the initial salvage team already on site.

“When conditions are safe the salvage team will board the Felicity Ace for an initial assessment of future salvage plans.

“Two salvage craft with additional firefighting and towing capability is on passage and one is scheduled to arrive on February 23 and another on February 26.

“MOL, MOL Ship Management (Singapore), and the salvage team are cooperating fully with local authorities and resources from the Azores to find an early solution to this incident.”

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