fire caused by batteries, a risk that should not be underestimated

September 5, 2022 Maritime Safety News

Lithium-ion batteries are having an increasingly important impact on maritime safety. This is evidenced by the occurrence of fires on ro-ro ships, vehicles and container ships. According to a new report from the maritime insurer Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (Agcs), the fight against these accidents, especially at sea, is proving to be particularly difficult. The only way to deal with these dangers is to take preventive measures as he explains Rahul Khanna, Global Director of Maritime Risk Advisory at Agcs. “Companies – she says – must do their best to adopt, implement and apply solid preventive measures. Indeed, with the rise of the electric car, more and more vehicles containing lithium-ion batteries will be transported by sea in the future ”.

The report, “Lithium Ion Batteries: Fire Risks and Loss Prevention Measures in Shipping“, Highlights four main risks: fire (lithium-ion batteries containing electrolyte, a flammable liquid); explosion (resulting from the release of flammable vapors and gases in a confined space); thermal runaway (rapid self-heating which can cause an explosion); and the toxic gases these accidents can cause. to produce. The most common causes of disasters are the production of accumulators and batteries that do not comply with the standards, the overcharging of accumulators or overheating due to a short circuit. Deterioration of accumulators or batteries, particularly related to poor packaging, incorrect handling or slippage of a poorly protected charge, can also be the cause of a disaster.

“Batteries are not only a potential cause of fire when they are damaged, overloaded or subjected to high temperatures. They can also exacerbate other sources of fire at sea and cause hard-to-extinguish fires, which can reignite several days or weeks later.In most accidents that occur aboard a ship, thermal runaway can be a factor. significant fire, if the crew does not take immediate action, such as extinguishing the fire by using large amounts of water for an extended period of time. Furthermore, this operation can be extremely difficult, especially if early diagnosis is difficult, if there are not enough seafarers or if the firefighting capabilities are inadequate ”.

Electric vehicle loss prevention measures on vehicle carriers and container ships

To mitigate the fire risk related to lithium-ion batteries when transporting electric vehicles on ships and containers, Agcs experts presented several recommendations for businesses, particularly in two sectors: storage and transport.

First, the personnel must be trained in packing and handling procedures and the sailors must be trained in fire fighting with lithium-ion batteries. Where possible, it should be checked that the state of charge of the batteries is suitable for transport. Electric vehicles with low ground clearance should be labeled, as this feature can cause problems with charging and discharging. Finally, ensuring that all electric vehicles are properly secured helps prevent slippage during transport. Any arrangements that can help with early diagnosis along the way are also essential. Fire safety bullets, thermal scanners, gas detectors and heat / smoke detectors are especially needed, as well as video surveillance cameras.

The report also lists several measures that can contribute to the safe storage of lithium-ion batteries. Also in this case, Agcs experts recommend staff training in packaging and handling procedures. In addition, an emergency response plan for damaged or overheated batteries and a risk control plan should be established to manage the receipt, storage, shipping and monitoring of packaged lithium-ion batteries. Finally, the prevention of exposure of batteries to high temperatures and their separation from other combustible materials, as well as the rapid removal of damaged or defective lithium-ion batteries, must be addressed.

“To limit accidents related to the transport of lithium-ion batteries in the maritime sector, the actors in the supply chain must understand the risks, causes and problems associated with commercial transport,” he said. Randall Lund, Senior Marine Risk Consultant at Agcs and author of the report with Miguel Herrera and Justin Kersey, also their maritime risk consultants at Agcs – There are specific regulations and instructions regarding these batteries that aim to prevent most accidents. However, they can only be effective if they are disseminated and applied. Only through a concerted effort by all stakeholders in the supply chain can we hope to reduce the number of accidents. “



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