Since yesterday there are slightly more Waves in the sea, but at a depth of 3,000 meters. The freighter Felicity Ace, loaded with Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Bentley and Lamborghini cars, sank yesterday after being on fire for nearly two weeks. The big question is, of course, what now? It doesn’t sound like a good idea to leave the ship including the 4,000 cars at the bottom of the ocean, but how do you get such a huge ship with such a load back to the surface? The simple answer is: no.
TopGear asked the Dutch Boskalis, the company that would salvage the Felicity Ace. They could not reveal anything about the ship and the situation. We then turned to Koole Contractors. This company took over Mammoet Salvage, which in turn was allowed to salvage the sunken Baltic Ace a few years ago together with Boskalis. Like the Felicity Ace, this was a freighter to transport cars, also known as a roll-on-roll-off ship (or RoRo). Koole specializes in less urgent recovery operations, but despite the fact that they are not actively involved in the recovery of the Felicity Ace, the companies are in close contact with each other.
‘The Felicity Ace will not be salvaged, and neither will the cars’
TopGear asked salvor Gijs Olsthoorn of Koole Contractors what he thinks will happen to the 200-metre-long roll-on-roll-off ship, including all Audis, Porsches, Bentleys, Lamborghinis and Volkswagens. He tells TopGear: ‘I’m 100 percent sure it won’t come up again. Perhaps a small attempt will be made to store some hazardous materials, but I also see that chance as nil.’ That sounds pretty definitive.
Can you salvage a ship at a depth of 3,000 meters?
Is it then impossible to salvage the freighter at such a depth? ‘In theory, anything is possible. From a practical point of view, a few things would be possible up to 3,000 meters, but it can be said with certainty that that will not happen’, says Olsthoorn. ‘It’s super complex at such depth. 3,000 meters is so terribly deep, you hardly have any equipment available to do that. The most obvious is an ROV, a remote-controlled submarine. That is also very limited at 3,000 metres.’
Can you just leave a ship on the bottom?
The Felicity Ace is currently in no man’s land, Olsthoorn agrees. ‘200 nautical miles, that is the limit of the economic area [van Portugal, red.]† The moment oil or something like that gets there, a country will still demand it. But as for the claims or the duty to clean up, there aren’t any more at that distance,” he says. The Japanese MOL, the owner of the ship, can legally leave the Felicity Ace on the bottom. Any leakage of harmful substances will be cleaned up.
Was the Felicity Ace sunk on purpose to cut costs?
If we put on our aluminum hat, it is very convenient that a ship full of written-off cars no longer needs to be salvaged. After all, why lift and dismantle or recycle 4,000 cars when you can also make them disappear in one go… Is there a chance the Felicity Ace was purposely sunk in this spot?
According to Olsthoorn, it is standard procedure that the burning Felicity Ace was dragged a long way away. ‘What you do as a preventive measure is not to position a ship near the port, that could have greater consequences. You never want that. If a ship is about to sink, don’t tow it to a harbor. That’s why they stay in deep waters. It is not deliberate in the form of, “then it is nice and deep and we don’t have to look at it anymore”,’ says the recovery company.
‘In addition, the principle of salvage contracts is that you save it, it has been built in worldwide for a hundred years. That it is attractive for a salvor to come to the rescue and also to save the ship, and not to make a profit. The parties that have been involved in it – such as the Dutch Boskalis/Smit – are the revenue models that make the salvage successful. The owner [van het schip, red.] can say, “Oh, let it go”, but then such a salvor would also say that they would rather save him.’
What happens to all the liquids in the cars?
But what about the almost invisible critters that reproduce asexually at the bottom of the ocean? Olsthoorn is not too concerned about that: ‘At that depth you have less weather conditions, few currents and little light. All materials remain in the ship much longer at that depth. The oil becomes very cold and less liquid and will not just escape.’
He adds: ‘A lot of circumstances make it very safe there. If a ship is off the coast and a storm arises, it can tear open, after which everything ends up on the beach. At 3,000 meters the weather does not affect the ship. You can be sure that he will stay with everything on board.’
Is anything finally known about the cause of the fire on the sunken Felicity Ace?
‘The exact situation on board has never really become known. They were not able to examine the entire ship, because of the heat and the like’, Olsthoorn knows. People were on board last week to take a look, but although the fire was indeed extinguished, the heat on the ship lingered for a long time. In addition, it will not have been passable or safe to look around everywhere.
According to Olsthoorn, salvage companies are busy writing plans for these kinds of scenarios. Nowadays there are more and more electric cars on board. Procedures must be devised for this, and people must be available with knowledge about specific ships. “I think that’s good news, otherwise you’ll get this more and more,” he concludes.
These 4,000 cars were on board the Felicity Ace
Audis, Porsches, Bentleys, Volkswagen and rare Lamborghinis
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