Ocean shippers playing catch up to electric vehicle fire risk

The fire on board vehicle carrier RoRo Fremantle Highway (IMO 9667344, see previous story) has highlighted the fact that ocean shippers of vehicles have been playing “catch-up” when it comes to ensuring satisfactory levels of safety on large vehicle carriers containing an ever increasing proportion of cars that are powered either wholly or in part by lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries.

Electric vehicle fires, when they occur, come with the side effect of the danger of thermal runaway and explosion that can be far greater than the corresponding risk with petrol-powered vehicles. Hybrids, of course, have both.

It has been generally accepted that the existing guidelines and regulations for handling hazardous materials and goods were behind the times when it came to dealing with electric vehicle fire risks.

Manufacturers have steadily been reducing the risks of a fire occurring in a li-ion car battery, and the next step will be to attempt to reduce the implications should such a fire still break out.

A first step will be comprehensive guidelines that address the unique risks associated with EV transportation. Shippers will also need to ensure proper training for their crew members in handling EVs, including firefighting techniques specific to lithium-ion battery fires, analysts have said.

New regulations could require shippers to invest in adequate infrastructure that would enable crew to deal with potential EV fires during transit. These would include advanced fire suppression systems onboard, coupled with proper ventilation systems.

Insurers have, unsurprisingly, been in the vanguard when it comes to encouraging improvements in all aspects of risk when it comes to transporting EVs. No official estimates have yet been released as to the ultimate cost of the Fremantle Highway fire but, given previous examples of fires on board car carriers, an estimate of $300m to $500m total would not be ruled out of court.