The Felicity Ace May Prove To Be A Huge Pollution Hazard

The sunken ship carrying 4,000 cars and hundreds-of-tons of fuel sank off the Azores last week

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Image: Andy Kalmowitz

Just when you thought there wasn’t enough to worry about in the world, the Felicity Ace is the gift that keeps on giving.

You may remember the ship that caught fire with 4,000 Volkswagen products (including Lamborghinis, Bentley and Porsches) in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Well, it sank, and that is causing an even bigger issue than some ruined cars. As you can imagine, it means there are now about 4,000 cars, lithium-ion batteries, oil, gas and the rest of a god damn cargo ship at the bottom of the ocean.

Believe it or not, a new Popular Mechanics report says ecologists are worried about what that sort of pollution will do to marine life near where the ship sank. That location is about 230 miles from the Azores. That distance poses an interesting issue; it is too far away from land. That means no country can take over its management, according to the international Law of the Sea Convention.

Felicity Ace sits 3,000 meters (1.9 miles) below the ocean’s surface. Upon impact, the wreck definitely affected the sea floor and all of the organisms that make their home there, deep sea ecologist Ana Colaço tells Popular Mechanics.

Her work at the Institute of Marine Research at the University of the Azores focuses on deep-sea habitats around the islands. “The most important thing to know is that the deep sea is not a desert,” she says. “If the ship is on soft sediment, there are sea cucumbers, crustaceans, and worms that live on this seafloor. There may be sponges and corals. Of course, there are fish of several kinds—the diversity of the deep sea is very high.”


According to the Associated Press, when the ship sank it had about 2,200 tons of fuel and another 2,200 tons of oil on board. They report that barely any wreckage remained at the surface, and tug boats were using hoses to break up small oil slicks that remained.

What’s needed now are undersea vehicles with cameras and instruments to dive to the wreck and assess its condition, including the tanks of oil and fuel. Chances are, if the tanks are full of liquid, they won’t burst from the water pressure at that depth, Colaco says. But leakages depend on so many factors, such as whether or not they were damaged in the fire or during the sinking, according to Popular Mechanics.


According to the publication, in an ideal situation, the batteries of electric cars and tanks of oil and gas would be extracted from the wreck and brought back to shore, but that is “a dream.”