Salvage team boards burnt ship with luxury cars off Azores, towing begins

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Ship Felicity Ace burns more than 100 km from the Azores island

LISBON (Reuters) -More than a week after a ship packed with luxury cars caught fire in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a salvage team managed to board the vessel on Friday and started to tow it to a safe location off the Portuguese Azores archipelago.

In a statement, ship manager Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd (MOL) said the Felicity Ace remained stable, and the smoke that for days billowed from the vessel, adrift around 170 km southwest of the Azores, had stopped.

The 22 crew members of the Panama-flagged Felicity Ace, which was carrying around 4,000 Volkswagen vehicles including Porsches, Audis and Bentleys from Germany to the United States, were evacuated last Wednesday, the day the fire broke out.

Some of the vehicles are electric and their lithium-ion batteries have made the fire very difficult to extinguish, port officials have said.

"We fear that the fire on the ship has damaged a large number of the nearly 4,000 group-brand vehicles to such an extent that they can no longer be delivered to customers," Volkswagen said in a statement on Friday.

Previous attempts to board the ship to assess its condition and start preparing it for towing had failed due to the fire and rough seas.

On Friday, the team was able to board by helicopter and the salvage boat Bear started towing the vessel to a "safe area off Azores", the ship manager said. It was not clear where exactly the vessel was being towed to.

It was being escorted by two tug boats and another salvage craft equipped with firefighting gear, MOL said.

Volkswagen said the damage to the vehicles was covered by insurance, adding that brands and dealers had already started to inform affected customers and finding "individual solutions".

Insurance experts said the incident could result in losses of $155 million.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony and Victoria Waldersee; Editing by Andrei Khalip, Kirsten Donovan)

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