Remember the Tricolor! Car Carrier with Audis, Porsches, and VWs is Ablaze in the North Atlantic

By Kurt Stolz on 18 February 2022
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The vehicle carrier Tarago at the port in Bremerhaven

If your Audi, Bentley, Porsche, or Volkswagen was on the high seas en route to the United States, it may be very, very late, if it arrives at all, that is.

The vehicle carrier Felicity Ace, operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines of Japan, is currently ablaze on the North Atlantic approximately 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) off the coast of Portugal.

The cargo section of the ship caught fire on Wednesday en route to Davisville, Rhode Island.  The ship had departed Emden, Germany, on February 10. 

All 22 crew members were evacuated by the Portuguese Navy and survived uninjured.  Authorities called the rescue operation “highly skilled and physically demanding.”  Crew members were flown from the Felicity Ace to the nearby Portuguese island of Faial.

On Friday, the Portuguese navy released photos showing smoke billowing from the ship and a firefighting boat dousing the vessel with water.

Wirtschafts Woche reported that the combined value of the automotive cargo is an estimated €500 million ($566 million).  A spokesman for Porsche said that there were approximately 1,100 Porsche automobiles on board.

The incident occurred at a time when supply-chain problems caused at least in part by the coronavirus pandemic are leaving automotive dealerships struggling to get enough cars to sell, while at the same time, automakers across the globe are experiencing shortages of semiconductors, the microprocessor chips needed for today’s cars’ high-tech features, thus further shrinking vehicle supply to dealers and customers.

The ship’s owner said in a statement that it will “make every effort to contain the damage and resolve the situation as the main priorities.”

Almost 20 years ago, the vehicle carrier MV Tricolor, operated by Wilh. Wilhelmsen, a Norwegian maritime group, was involved in three collisions in the English channel within a fortnight with almost 3,000 vehicles on board. It was first struck by the Bahamian-flagged container ship Kariba, causing it to sink off Dunkirk harbor on December 14, 2002, and was struck twice more while she remained on her side, stuck in the mud of the 98-foot (30-meter) deep waterway.

The 2,871 vehicles on board – among them BMWs, Saabs, and Volvos – were removed and recycled for their metal content. The almost 4,000 vehicles on board the Felicity Ace are likely to meet the same fate.

The Tricolor was cut into eight pieces while still underwater, after six months of planning for the salvage operation.

Jonathan Spira contributed reporting to this story.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)