Firefighting boats struggle to subdue Felicity Ace blaze

The ship is carrying 4,000 luxury vehicles.
Loukia Papadopoulos
An image of the ship "Felicity Ace" captured by NRP Setúbal.Portuguese Navy

You would think that a vessel surrounded by water would not burn but unfortunately, that's not the case.

Earlier this week, a cargo ship named Felicity Ace, carrying cars from Volkswagen's facility in Germany to the U.S., caught fire and had to be left in the ocean.

Now, Reuters reported on Sunday that firefighters were still struggling to subdue the blaze on the ship filled with thousands of luxury cars.

The ship is adrift off the coast of Portugal's Azores islands.

A ship on fire

The fire is so difficult to tackle because it needs an approach that requires a lot of time. "The intervention (to put out the blaze) has to be done very slowly," João Mendes Cabeças, a captain of a nearby port, told Reuters late on Saturday. "It will take a while."

The blaze is fed by the lithium-ion batteries in the electric vehicles on board the ship. Lithium-ion batteries ignite very easily and water does not put out their flames. However, at the time, it remains unclear whether these batteries started the fire or were just caught up in it.

The Felicity Ace ship has onboard 4,000 luxury vehicles including some electric. It is now crewless as its 22 member staff were evacuated on the same day it caught fire.

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Tackling the fire from outside

The fire is a complex one. It is currently too dangerous for firefighters to go on board the ship so they are tackling it from outside by attempting to cool down its structure.

Furthermore, as water extinguishers do not subdue fires from lithium-ion batteries, the firefighters cannot use them, complicating their tasks further. In addition, using water on the ship could result in more weight applied to it which could make it unstable.

Luckily, according to Cabeças, the fire is still far from the ship's fuel tanks. However, he did warn that the blaze was getting closer adding that "everything was on fire about five meters above the waterline."

Firefighters are now in a race against time, attempting to subdue the blaze before it reaches the ship's fuel tanks.