A ship carrying burning Porsches and Bentleys near the Azores, towing boats en route

  • Electric car lithium-ion batteries keep the fire burning
  • Boat towing underway next week, rescue team on ship
  • Crew unharmed and evacuated on Wednesday – Navy

BERLIN/LISBON, Feb 18 (Reuters) – A ship carrying around 4,000 vehicles, including Porsches, Audis and Bentleys, which caught fire near the Azores coast will be towed to another European country or the Bahamas, the nearest harbor master told Reuters on Friday.

The lithium-ion batteries of electric cars on board the vehicle transporter Felicity Ace caught fire and the blaze required specialized equipment to extinguish, said Captain Joao Mendes Cabecas of the port of Hortas.

It was unclear if the batteries started the fire first.

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“The ship is burning through and through…everything is on fire about five meters above the waterline,” Cabecas said.

Images provided by Portuguese maritime authorities showed severe burns to the bow and along the side of the 200-meter-long and 200-meter-long vessel (220 meters), which according to Refinitiv data, was built in 2005 and can carry 17,738 tons of weight.

Tugboats were en route from Gibraltar and the Netherlands, with three due to arrive on Wednesday, Cabecas said. He added that the vessel could not be towed to the Azores as it was so large it would block trade at the port.

A 16-person salvage team from Smit Salvage, owned by Dutch marine engineer Boskalis, was dispatched to the ship to help control the flames, Boskalis said.

The Panamanian-flagged vessel, owned by Snowscape Car Carriers SA and managed by Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd (9104.T), was traveling from Emden, Germany – where Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) has a plant – to Davisville in the United States , based on the Marine Traffic website.

Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd and Smit did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 22 crew members on board were evacuated on Wednesday when the fire broke out, without causing any injuries, the Portuguese navy said in a statement.

About 1,100 Porsches and 189 Bentleys were on board, spokespeople for Volkswagen-owned auto brands said. Audi, another Volkswagen brand, confirmed that some of its vehicles were also on the ship, but did not say how many.

Volkswagen did not confirm the total number of cars on board and said it was awaiting further information.

YouTuber Matt Farah, whose car review channel “The Smoking Tire” has more than a million subscribers, said on Twitter that he was contacted by a car dealership who said the Porsche he had ordered was aboard the ship.

“My car is now adrift, possibly on fire, in the middle of the ocean,” Farah tweeted.

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Reporting by Victoria Waldersee and Christina Amann in Berlin, Catarina Demony in Lisbon and Jonathan Saul in London; Additional reporting by Christoph Steitz; Editing by Miranda Murray, Jane Merriman and Jonathan Oatis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Earnest A. Martinez