This girl’s on fire … and now she’s sunk, too

The last time I ordered a new car from Europe my local dealer put me onto a smartphone app that allowed me to track the progress of the ship my car was coming to Australia on. For the next several weeks I veered between breathless anticipation as the app showed its progress towards me, and near panic on a couple of occasions when the ship disappeared from the tracker.

The first time it disappeared, I feared the worst: it’s sunk, or it’s been hijacked by Somali pirates, notwithstanding the fact Somalia is on the opposite side of the African continent to where the ship was. At stressful moments one’s imagination tends to run amok.

But the ship would eventually reappear on the tracker, chugging relentlessly across the ocean and eventually delivered its precious cargo to me.

‘The Felicity Ace is now at the bottom of the north Atlantic Ocean along with cars worth goodness knows how much.’

So, I could only imagine how anyone tracking the progress of the Felicity Ace must have felt last month when, first, the ship stopped moving, and then it disappeared from their tracking apps altogether. This was no glitch, nor the ship being temporarily out of tracking range, which sometimes happens. No, this was a bit more serious.

The Felicity Ace was just off the coast of Portugal, adrift and on fire. Its crew had abandoned ship when the fire started, and who can blame them? An estimated 4000 VW Group cars – including Porsches, Audis, Bentleys and Lamborghinis, all bound for North America – were in severe jeopardy. That jeopardy got even worse when the Felicity Ace sank. The marinetraffic.com website now ominously lists the ship as “Vehicles Carrier [Dead]”.

Normally, you’d think that expert firefighting and salvage crews might be able to get things under control reasonably quickly. But it’s suspected, though by no means yet confirmed, that the fire was started and made harder to extinguish by the batteries in some electric vehicles onboard.

The Companion has an old school friend who became quite senior in the firefighting business, and he says battery fires are bad. They burn for ages, and they’re fuelled by chemicals, so sometimes the standard way of fighting a fire – depriving it of oxygen by dousing it in water or foam or some other retardant – doesn’t work, or at least doesn’t work quickly.

The upshot is the Felicity Ace is now at the bottom of the north Atlantic Ocean along with cars worth goodness knows how much (estimates suggest $US155 million but if that’s true that’s an average of less than $US40,000 per car, which seems conservative given the marques involved), and there’s a bunch of presumably very distraught North American customers. I know that had this happened to me, I’d have been devastated.

One hopes and expects the customers will have their lost orders made good with minimum fuss. But some customers are said to have waited eight months for their orders to be filled and their vehicles to be shipped. It would seem unlikely their replacements could be supplied any more quickly than that second time around, what with global logistics and supply chain issues persisting because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will all be insured, of course, so no customers will be out of pocket, and it’s a relief that the ship’s crew is safe.

My heart goes out to those who’ve lost a car in this incident. It’s hard enough waiting for it to arrive even when everything goes according to plan. But, and it’s easy for me to say, there are currently worse things happening in the world than a ship sinking with the loss of some awesome cars.

Even so, car lovers the world over will have checked themselves momentarily and given small thanks to the god of the ocean (Poseidon? Neptune?) that it wasn’t their vehicle on the Felicity Ace.

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