Electric Batteries Keeping Fire Alive On Ship Ferrying Thousands of Luxury Cars

Last Wednesday, a ship ferrying almost 4,000 luxury cars caught fire and continues to burn at the time of writing. Of this number, an unspecified number are electric cars and their battery packs are what’s “keeping the fire alive”, according to a local port official who spoke to Reuters.

The 6,400-ceu Panama-registered car carrier named Felicity Ace was en route from Emden in Germany to Rhode Island, USA, and was approximately 90 nautical miles southwest from the island of Faial in the Azores when the fire broke out. All 22 crew members were uninjured and rescued by an oil tanker, Resilient Warrior.

The cars, however, are seemingly a lost cause, leaving expectant car owners disappointed and still awaiting updates from the car companies on how they would sort out this mess. Porsche and Bentleys have confirmed that they have 1,100 and 189 cars (respectively) onboard; the remainder are made up of cars the likes of VWs, Audis and Lamborghinis. Rescue efforts continue with several tug vessels laden with firefighting equipment as well as the necessary making their way to Felicity Ace.

It will take a months-long forensic investigation to discover the cause of fire and no one is pointing fingers at the battery packs inside the electric cars…yet (was it you, Taycan?). What can be said is that fighting an EV fire and one onboard a drifting ship at that is very different from putting out a conventional car fire.

While these ships have fire suppression and drenching systems built in, they are not designed to handle lithium-ion battery fires. Li-ion battery fires burn hotter and release toxic gases, and require a vast quantity of dry chemicals to put out.

That said, the numbers suggest that EVs are way less likely to catch fire than conventional gas-fueled vehicles; it’s just that when they do, they are much more complicated to manage – even after the flame have been extinguished, they can reignite hours or even days later. In the Netherlands, firefighters once dunked an entire BMW i8, which was smoking, into a giant water-filled container to let it cool off and that, they believed, was the most effective way to put an EV fire out.

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