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EV batteries could complicate recovery of burning cargo ship with thousands of cars

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The ship contains thousands of Audis, Porsches, Lamborghinis, and Bentleys

Photo: Portuguese Navy

A bunch of burning lithium-ion batteries could complicate the recovery of the massive, abandoned cargo ship in the Atlantic Ocean containing thousands of Porsches, Volkswagens, Bentleys, and Lamborghinis.

The batteries of an unknown number of electric vehicles have caught fire aboard the ship, captain Joao Mendes Cabecas of the port of Hortas, which is the nearest port to the ship’s location, told Reuters. It’s unclear at this time whether the batteries are what sparked the fire. Experts in putting out battery fires will be needed to extinguish the blaze.

“The ship is burning from one end to the other... everything is on fire about five meters above the water line,” Reuters quotes Cabeças saying.

The Felicity Ace was heading from Germany to a port in Rhode Island when it issued distress signals Wednesday morning, reporting a fire in one of its cargo decks. All 22 crew members were successfully evacuated and did not need medical attention, according to a statement by the Portuguese Navy.

The owner of the vessel is now developing a plan to recover the abandoned ship. Towing boats are en route from Gibraltar and the Netherlands and are expected to arrive at the ship’s location next week.

Around 1,100 Porsches and 189 Bentleys were on board, as well as an unspecified number of Audis. According to Importinfo.com, the electric vehicles may have been Audi E-tron Sportbacks. All told, the number of vehicles lost in the fire is likely to exceed $150 million — though the automakers declined to provide an estimate.

“We are aware of an incident involving a third-party cargo ship transporting Volkswagen Group vehicles across the Atlantic,” a VW spokesperson told The Verge. “The vessel was on its way to North America. At this time, we are not aware of any injuries. We are in contact with the shipping company to get more information about the incident.”

The fire is another blow to VW at a time when the global semiconductor shortage and supply chain disruptions are roiling the auto industry. The automaker recently disclosed that it would likely cut some night shifts at one of its German factories as a result of the chip shortage. VW says it expects to be able to ramp up production in the latter half of the year.