Cargo ship fire sparks safety concerns over electric-car transport – report

Cargo ship fire sparks safety concerns over electric-car transport – report
Cargo ship fire sparks safety concerns over electric-car transport – report

Almost 500 electric cars are among the approximately 3800 vehicles onboard the cargo ship which caught fire off the Dutch coast last week – sparking fresh calls for the sea transport industry to implement better policies to put out fires involving electric vehicles.

A cargo ship fire off the Dutch coast last week has prompted the sea freight industry to assess safer practices for transporting electric cars, as blazes involving battery-powered vehicles are said to be harder to contain and manage than petrol and diesel fires.

As reported late last week, a fire broke out in the cargo hold of the Panama-registered ‘Fremantle Highway’ ship while it was transporting vehicles from Germany to Egypt – killing at least one crew member and leaving several others injured after they jumped overboard.

Initial overseas reports suggested there were just 25 electric cars among 2857 vehicles onboard the cargo ship, though news agency Reuters has since corrected this figure to 498 electric cars out of 3783 total vehicles.

The ship fire has not been officially attributed to an electric vehicle, however some overseas media reports, and the ship’s owner have identified a battery-powered vehicle as a possible source of the blaze.

While the fire is reportedly under control, the Panama Maritime Authority has already launched an investigation into the cause of the blaze and how it can be prevented in the future.

According to Reuters, a spokesperson for the International Maritime Organisation – the peak body for global sea safety – said there are plans to “evaluate new measures next year for ships transporting electric vehicles”, following a number of recent fires.

Though petrol and diesel-powered vehicles can also catch fire while being transported, electric-car fires burn with more than twice as much energy and are more difficult to put out due to the chemistry within most of their batteries.

The publication claims the new measures could include specific fire extinguishers for battery fires, as well as limits on the amount of charge in the batteries of electric cars being transported – although these proposals are yet to be implemented.

The Fremantle Highway cargo ship fire is already being highlighted as an example of why electric cars can present a greater risk of fires on ships, and why freight companies should introduce more safety procedures while transporting battery-powered vehicles across the sea.

Speaking to Reuters, Douglas Dillon – executive director of the Tri-state Maritime Safety Association – said the Fremantle Highway is a ship that uses a ‘roll-on, roll-off’ system, where cars are parked bumper-to-bumper in the cargo hold with little space around them.

If an electric car catches fire on the road, firefighters are trained to douse the road underneath the vehicle with water. Similarly, if a fire occurs on a train or truck transporting an electric car, the fire can be isolated by disconnecting a rail car or the truck trailer.

However, Mr Dillon claims these techniques are almost impossible to execute on a roll-on, roll-off cargo ship as there is significantly less space to access the vehicles – a factor which can increase the intensity of a fire and put firefighters at greater risk of injury.

John Frazee, a managing director of insurance broker Marsh, also told Reuters recent electric-vehicle fires on cargo ships has led to an increase in insurance prices for car makers and transport companies.

While Mr Frazee said he believes insurance companies will be pushing for safety standards to change for electric-car carrying cargo ships – by mandating battery-specific firefighting chemicals and equipment – the expert said he sees “no quick solution” to solving the problems presented by transporting electric vehicles.

As previously reported, the Fremantle Highway fire is the second on a car-carrying ship in the past month – following the death of two firefighters in Newark, New Jersey who were battling a blaze on the Grande Costa d’Avorio, which was holding 1200 vehicles.

It also follows the highly-publicised Felicity Ace incident in February 2022, which made headlines worldwide when its shipment of Volkswagen Group cars – such as Porsches, Audis, Bentleys, and Volkswagens – caught fire in the Atlantic Ocean.

Reportedly sparked by a Porsche Taycan electric car, the ship eventually sank approximately 405km from the Portuguese coastline – with the approximately 4000 cars onboard going down with it.

The post Cargo ship fire sparks safety concerns over electric-car transport – report appeared first on Drive.

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