Lisbon: The Felicity Ace, a massive Panama-flagged cargo ship carrying thousands of Volkswagen Group vehicles, caught fire near the Azores islands in the Atlantic Ocean Wednesday afternoon.
The ship's 22 crew members were successfully evacuated and taken to a local hotel by the Portuguese Navy and Air Force, who were deployed to help with the rescue effort, according to a statement from the Navy. The ship itself was left unmanned and adrift.
An internal email from Volkswagen's US operations revealed there were 3,965 Volkswagen AG vehicles aboard the ship. Headquartered in Wolfsburg, Germany, the group manufactures vehicles under brands including Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi and Lamborghini "- all of which were in tow when the vessel set ablaze.
More than 100 of those cars were headed for the Port of Houston in Texas, with GTI, Golf R, and ID.4 models deemed to be at risk, according to the email. The auto industry is already struggling with supply issues, including pandemic-related staffing woes and the global chip shortage.
Luke Vandezande, a spokesperson for Porsche, said the company estimates around 1,100 of its vehicles were among those on board Felicity Ace at the time of the fire. He said customers affected by the incident are being contacted by their dealers. "Our immediate thoughts are of relief that the 22 crew of the merchant ship Felicity Ace are safe and well," Vandezande said.
It's not the first time the manufacturer has lost merchandise at sea. When the Grande America caught fire and sank in 2019, more than 2,000 luxury cars, including Audis and Porsches, sank with it.
Some customers expressed their disappointment on social media. One Twitter user reported his custom spec'd Porsche Boxter Spyder was on board the ship. Standard models of the vehicle start around $99,650.
A spokesperson for Lamborghini's U.S. operation declined to comment on the number of cars the company had on board or which models were affected, but said that they are in contact with the shipping company to get more information about the incident.
Felicity Ace is roughly the size of three football fields and was en route to a port in Davisville, Rhode Island, when a distress signal was issued due to a fire on one of its cargo decks.
As of Wednesday night, the ship's owner was arranging for the vessel to be towed, the Navy said. They plan to remain on site to monitor the situation, reporting no detectable traces of pollution so far.