Here’s the latest on the RI-bound freighter that caught fire at sea with thousands of new cars on board

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The 650-foot-long freighter caught fire on Wednesday local time about 90 nautical miles southwest of the Azores, with thousands of vehicles on board. Bloomberg reported that an internal email from Volkswagen AG’s US operations revealed there were 3,965 vehicles on board the ship, including Porsche, Audi and Lamborghini brands.

Video footage published on facebook showed first responders rescuing crew members, using baskets that were used to pull them from the ship and get them to safety in a helicopter.

“We are aware of an incident involving a third-party freighter transporting Volkswagen Group vehicles across the Atlantic,” Volkswagen said in a statement Friday. “The ship was en route 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 Volkswagen spokesperson declined to comment beyond the statement.

The Felicity Ace was sailing from Emden in Germany to the port of Davisville in Rhode Island, according to online ship trackers. The vessel can carry over 17,000 metric tons (18,700 tons) of cargo. Typically, car carrier ships carry thousands of vehicles over multiple decks in their hold.

The Portuguese Navy said in a statement on Wednesday that its ocean patrol vessel NRP Setúbal was involved in the rescue, as were Portuguese Air Force assets and four merchant ships in the area. On Thursday, the Navy said the NRP Setúbal was still on hand to monitor the situation. A Navy spokesman said Friday afternoon that the Felicity Ace remains at sea and asked further questions of the ship’s owners.

The ship fire comes amid supply chain issues that have rocked virtually every industry during the pandemic, including the auto industry. Last year, major automakers around the world announced production cuts and General Motors announced last April that it would temporarily close eight assembly plants due to chip shortages. In October, three major sellers of cars and trucks in the United States reported total sales reflecting the pressure a global shortage of semiconductors has put on auto production, The New York Times reported.

Joshua Vavra, an engineer living in Chester, NH, discovered the fire while visiting a car enthusiast’s website.

“I said, wouldn’t it be terrible if my wife’s car is over there?” he told The Globe on Friday.

Sure enough, a phone call to his Porsche dealership confirmed that the vehicle they ordered in November was aboard the Felicity Ace.

Vavra and his wife, Lyndsey, had been waiting since November for the delivery of a Porsche Macan SUV, and they were glad they weren’t waiting even longer, at a time when supply chain issues have caused severe shortages of new cars. .

“I know many other people who have been waiting for 18 months,” Vavra said.

The Vavras went with the $65,000 Porsche because “we kind of decided to splurge,” he said.

The vehicle was supposed to replace his wife’s aging Audi, another brand made by Volkswagen. Vavra noted that new Audis were also being shipped aboard the Felicity Ace.

“If we had ordered a new Audi, we might have been in the same boat,” Vavra said. “Literally.”

Jack Perkins, executive vice president of the Rhode Island Auto Dealers Association, said in a phone interview Friday that he wasn’t sure how many Felicity Ace vehicles are going to dealerships in the state.

Robert O’Koniewski, executive vice president of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association, said a number of vehicles on the boat had likely already been taken by individual buyers.

“Based on [current] inventory shortages that everyone is experiencing at new car dealerships across the country, I would suspect most ‘cars’ are already in consumer demand,” he said.

Andrew Dunn, managing director of sales at Porsche Norwell, said “around six” Porsches ordered by customers were on the burning ship.

“They ordered vehicles on which they put deposits,” he said, adding that customers had been alerted. “It’s beyond everyone’s reach, so they understand that.”

Dunn said the fire won’t interfere with his dealership’s operations too much. “Maybe a little speed bump, but it won’t affect us that much.” One reason: he is waiting for another shipment on another ship.

Vina Tran, a receptionist at Porsche of Burlington, said the dealership had two cars on the burning ship.

“It’s still a bit of a blur — that’s about all we know,” Tran said.

A California man tweeted on Thursday that his high-end sports car, a Porsche Boxster Spyder, was among the vehicles stranded at sea.

In a follow-up tweet, Farah, who runs the popular Smoking Tire website, said his dealer promised to keep him posted on updates.

Authorities have not confirmed the cause of the fire.

Capt. Michael R. Burns Jr., a Massachusetts Maritime Academy official who has commanded ocean-going vessels, said a shipboard fire is the most frightening and dangerous circumstance a crew is faced with. faced in what is already a dangerous profession.

“A fire on board a ship is one of the most terrifying things you can experience,” he said. “You’re the fire department when you go out…People get trained on that, but we’re not professional firefighters.”

The crew abandoned ship in lifeboats and were picked up by a passing merchant ship when they lost control of the fire on board, Burns noted.

“You won’t jump ship unless you have no choice,” he said. “If your chances of surviving in the lifeboat are greater than those of staying on the ship, that’s when you should abandon ship. So things must have been bad enough that they abandoned ship.

Burns referred to the car-carrying ship as a “floating parking garage” that likely had hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel in its tanks when it left port.

But, he said, he believed maritime rescue teams with experience of fighting fires at sea would likely bring the blaze under control in the short term.

“I don’t think there’s that much risk to just, you know, explode like a bomb although the fire could certainly spread,” he said. “I’m sure there will be a professional salvage company coming to take over the vessel and they will probably try to get the fire under control before towing a burning vessel back to port. I don’t think anyone would let them in.

Burns said environmental damage is likely to be minimal – provided the ship does not leak, break up or sink as a result of the fire, he said. The Portuguese navy said Thursday that no trace of pollution had been detected in the area.

“If the ship starts flooding, or taking on water, or sinking or breaking up, then you have the risk of you knowing, spilling fuel and whatever gets lost,” Burns said. “I know there are highly professional organizations that are well equipped to deal with and respond to the situation and I’m sure they are being called upon at this time.”

Burns, executive director of the academy’s Maritime Center for Responsible Energy, said he was relieved to hear that the crew had been able to safely descend from the burning vessel and were safe on land.

“As a sailor, I was happy to hear that they made it out safe and sound. That’s not always the case,” he said. “Going to sea is a danger and it is one of the things that we take into account and live with on a daily basis when we are there. We try to mitigate this risk, but sometimes, despite your best efforts, bad things happen.

Associated Press material was used in this report. Carlos Munoz of Globe Staff contributed to this.


Travis Andersen can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. John R. Ellement can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe. Anissa Gardizy can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8 and on Instagram @anissagardizy.journalism. Hiawatha Bray can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.

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