Ship carrying 1,100 Porsches and many other luxury cars is burning and adrift

The fire broke out on Wednesday morning in the cargo hold of the ship, called the Felicity Ace. PHOTO: MARINEINSIGHT/TWITTER

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - A mammoth cargo ship believed to be carrying thousands of vehicles including 1,100 Porsches was on fire and drifting off the coast of the Azores on Thursday (Feb 17) after its 22 crew members were rescued from the vessel.

The fire broke out on Wednesday morning in the cargo hold of the ship, called the Felicity Ace, which had departed from Emden, Germany, on Feb 10 and was scheduled to arrive in Davisville, Rhode Island, on Wednesday, according to a ship tracking website.

The ship was about 320km from Terceira Island in the Azores, the Portuguese island territory, when Portuguese forces moved in on Wednesday to evacuate the crew.

No rescuers or crew members were injured in the "highly skilled and physically demanding" operation, which included a helicopter that whisked the crew members to the nearby Portuguese island of Faial, according to the authorities.

It was unclear how much of the 200m, 60,000-tonne cargo ship's inventory was lost in the fire and how the authorities would tend to the stricken ship. The shipping company could not immediately be reached.

The Drive, an automotive website, reported that the Volkswagen Group estimated nearly 4,000 vehicles were on board, including 189 Bentleys. E-mails sent to the Volkswagen Group were not immediately answered.

The fire comes as showrooms across the United States are trying to meet consumer demand amid supply-chain problems caused partly by the pandemic. Low interest rates, higher savings rates and government stimulus payments have increased demand, while automakers have struggled to weather a shortage of computer chips.

Mr Matt Farah, a car enthusiast and editor of The Smoking Tire, had been waiting for his 2022 frozen-berry metallic Porsche Boxster Spyder with a retail price of about US$123,000 (S$165,000) and modified to his precise specifications, since August.

"The best sports car of all time, hands down," he wrote.

But he received disappointing news on Wednesday: "I just got a call from my dealer. My car is now adrift, possibly on fire, in the middle of the ocean."

In a statement on Thursday, Mr Farah said that a Porsche representative confirmed that his car was on the boat and apologised for the inconvenience.

"That was yesterday, and I have not heard any updates since," he said. "I'm glad no one was hurt in the fire and everyone is safe, which is the most important thing. I'm sure that whatever happens going forward, Porsche will do right by their customers."

In a statement on Thursday evening, a spokesman for Porsche Cars North America said that 1,100 of the company's cars were on board but that the fate of the vehicles was unknown. She encouraged customers worried about their car to contact their dealer.

"Our immediate thoughts are of relief that the 22 crew members of the merchant ship Felicity Ace are safe and well," the statement said.

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