Firefighters struggle to douse fire on luxury cars vessel off Azores islands

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The ship, Felicity Ace, which was traveling from Emden, Germany, where Volkswagen has a factory, to Davisville, in the U.S. state of Rhode Island, burns more than 100 km from the Azores islands, Portugal, February 18, 2022. Portuguese Navy (Marinha Portuguesa)/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

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LISBON, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Firefighters are struggling to put out a fire that broke out on Wednesday on a vessel carrying thousands of luxury cars, which is adrift off the coast of Portugal's Azores islands, a port official said, adding it was unclear when they would succeed.

The Felicity Ace ship, carrying around 4,000 vehicles including Porsches, Audis and Bentleys, some electric with lithium-ion batteries, caught fire in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday. The 22 crew members on board were evacuated on the same day. read more

"The intervention (to put out the blaze) has to be done very slowly," João Mendes Cabeças, captain of the nearest port in the Azorean island of Faial, told Reuters late on Saturday. "It will take a while."

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Lithium-ion batteries in the electric vehicles on board are "keeping the fire alive", Cabeças said, adding that specialist equipment to extinguish it was on the way.

It was not clear whether the batteries sparked the fire.

Volkswagen, which owns the brands, did not confirm the total number of cars on board and said on Friday it was awaiting further information. Ship manager Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd (9104.T) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cabeças previously said that "everything was on fire about five meters above the water line" and the blaze was still far from the ship's fuel tanks. It is getting closer, he said.

"The fire spread further down," he said, explaining that teams could only tackle the fire from outside by cooling down the ship's structure as it was too dangerous to go on board.

They also cannot use water because adding weight to the ship could make it more unstable, and traditional water extinguishers do not stop lithium-ion batteries from burning, Cabeças said.

The Panama-flagged ship will be towed to a country in Europe or to the Bahamas but it is unclear when that will happen.

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Reporting by Catarina Demony in Lisbon; Additional reporting by Victoria Waldersee in Berlin; Editing by Barbara Lewis

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