By Barry Hatton
A burning car transport ship drifted in the mid-Atlantic on Thursday after the huge vessel's 22 crew members were evacuated due to the blaze, the Portuguese navy said.
Shipping in the area was warned that the 200-meter-long (650-feet-long) Felicity Ace was adrift near Portugal’s Azores Islands after the crew were taken off on Wednesday, Portuguese navy spokesman Cmdr. José Sousa Luís said.
The Felicity Ace can carry more than 17,000 metric tons (18,700 tons) of cargo. Typically, car transport ships fit thousands of vehicles on multiple decks in their hold.
Volkswagen Group said in a brief statement the Felicity Ace was transporting to the U.S. vehicles that the German automaker produced. The company declined to comment on what consequences the incident might have for U.S. customers or the VW Group.
The ship’s operator, Japan’s Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, said in an email to the AP it could not provide information about the cargo.
A Portuguese navy ship sailed to the vehicle transporter, which was sailing from Emden in Germany to the port of Davisville in the U.S. state of Rhode Island, according to online vessel trackers. A navy statement said the fire was still burning and showed a photograph of large clouds of white smoke billowing out.
The navy ship was to check whether the cargo vessel was in danger of sinking or causing pollution, Sousa Luís told The Associated Press.
The ship's owner is seeking an ocean-going tug, but the Felicity Ace is unlikely to be towed to a port in Portugal’s Azores Islands because of its size, Sousa Luis said.
The crew were taken by helicopter on Wednesday to Faial island on the archipelago, about 170 kilometers (100 miles) away, and are staying at a hotel there. None of them was hurt.
Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.