NewsFire on ship with 4000 cars: More security required

Fire on ship with 4000 cars: More security required

The fire on a ship with 4,000 German cars is not the first of its kind, but it could set a precedent. Experts call for better extinguishing systems.

Lisbon/Berlin – After the devastating fire on a freighter with around 4000 German cars from the VW Group in the middle of the Atlantic, demands for better extinguishing systems on such huge transport ships are becoming louder.

“With goods worth up to 500 million euros on board, more security should be invested in these ships,” said Jörg Asmussen, general manager of the German Insurance Association (GDV), in an interview with the German Press Agency.

He emphasized that “sometimes devastating fires keep breaking out” on car freighters. Therefore, the extinguishing systems would have to be improved. “In the case of fires, time is of the essence, which is why extinguishing systems should react automatically.” One possibility is high-pressure water mist. Water mist does not cause any damage to the cargo and hardly affects the stability of the ship because it only brings little water onto the decks. In contrast to carbon dioxide, water mist is not dangerous for humans.

Further guideless in the sea

On Tuesday, the burning freighter “Felicity Ace” continued to drift about 170 kilometers south of the Azores, which belong to Portugal. According to media reports, the ship, which is around 200 meters long, was on its way from Emden to Davisville in the US state of Rhode Island with luxury vehicles from the brands Porsche, Audi, Bentley and Lamborghini on board when the fire broke out last Wednesday for an unknown reason. The 22 crew members were evacuated by the Portuguese Air Force soon after the fire broke out.

According to the latest official information, three deep-sea tugboats, including those with salvage experts from the Netherlands, are to arrive at the transporter on Wednesday. Before towing the ship to a port, they want to try to extinguish the fire using the latest equipment on the high seas, said João Mendes Cabeças, port commander of Porto da Horta on the Azores island of Faial. The fire has since “weakened somewhat” thanks to the cooling work on the outer walls of the ship, Mendes Cabeças told the Lusa news agency on Monday evening. He emphasized: “At the moment there is no pollution”, although the ship has large amounts of fuel and car batteries on board.

Poisoning of the sea threatens

Not an easy task, says Asmussen. “If the fire has spread far, it is hardly possible to extinguish it.” The fire that broke out on Wednesday for an unknown reason cannot be extinguished with water because of the risk of greater pollution of the ocean, as local experts emphasized. The ship has a slight list and it is feared that toxic substances will be washed into the sea. An alternative could be to “bring more CO2 on board,” Asmussen explained. Whether that is possible depends on the sea and the weather.

Asmussen denied that e-mobility was more susceptible to fire than combustion technology. “Statistically, combustion engines tend to do this even slightly more often than electric cars, the fire load is comparable,” he emphasized. Another factor is decisive: “The more vehicles there are on board, the greater the risk of spontaneous combustion.” Since huge ships with up to 5,000 cars on board are now sailing the world’s oceans, they are much more economical but less safe than smaller freighters are, improved extinguishing systems are the best way to make these vans safer.

Wrapped in thick smoke

Video footage posted by the crew of the patrol boat Setúbal on Twitter last Sunday showed thick smoke rising from bow to stern over the ship. The hull had melted in places.

Is there a risk that the ship will sink – and cause major pollution? Asmussen: “In such fires, the ships are often cooled from the outside to protect the structure. As long as not too much of this cooling water gets inside and the weather is not too bad, there is initially no danger of sinking.” But if the ship burns out completely, “the structure could be so weakened by the heat that the structures give way. Then it might go down.” There is also a risk of capsizing due to water sloshing back and forth or cargo sliding.

Upon request, Volkswagen confirmed that the ship was transporting new cars from the VW Group. A spokesman did not want to confirm reports that there were about 1100 Porsches, some Bentleys and Lamborghinis and many Audis. dpa

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