LOS ANGELES/AMSTERDAM — Electrical autos are crisscrossing the globe to succeed in their keen consumers, however the battery know-how concerned within the zero-emission cars is exposing under-prepared maritime shippers to the danger of hard-to-control fires, trade, insurance coverage and emergency response officers stated.
That danger has been put below the highlight by the burning automobile service drifting off the Dutch coast. The Dutch coastguard stated the fireplace’s trigger was unknown, however Dutch broadcaster RTL launched a recording by which an emergency responder is heard saying “the fireplace began within the battery of an electrical automobile.”
Whereas all logistics firms take care of the danger of EV lithium-ion batteries burning with twice the vitality of a traditional hearth, the maritime trade hasn’t saved up with the growing know-how and the way it creates higher danger, maritime officers and insurers stated.
There have been 209 ship fires reported throughout 2022, the very best quantity in a decade and 17% greater than in 2021, in line with a report from insurer Allianz International Company & Specialty (AGCS). Of that whole, 13 occurred on automobile carriers, however what number of concerned EVs was not out there.
The European Maritime Security Company stated in a March report the primary cargo sorts recognized as accountable for “a big share of cargo hearth accidents included … lithium-ion batteries.”
There have been 3,783 new vehicles on board the Fremantle Freeway, together with 498 electrical battery autos, a spokesperson of ship chartering firm “Ok” Line stated on Friday. Preliminary stories had put the variety of electrical autos at simply 25.
Japan’s Shoei Kisen, which owns the ship, stated it was working with authorities to get management of the fireplace.
The reason for the fireplace, whereas nonetheless formally undetermined, has raised questions on “what blind spots there are when transporting electrical vehicles powered by batteries – which once they catch hearth cannot be extinguished with water, and even by oxygen deprivation,” stated Nathan Habers, spokesperson for the Royal Affiliation of Netherlands Shipowners (KVNR).
“The primary query that involves thoughts is: Does the present code stack up towards the danger profile of one of these items?” he added.
One hazard in lithium-ion batteries is “thermal runaway,” a speedy and unstoppable enhance in temperature that results in fires in EVs which are exhausting to extinguish and might spontaneously reignite.
Hearth extinguishing techniques on the huge ships that haul vehicles weren’t designed for these hotter fires, and transport firms and regulators are scrambling to catch up, stated Douglas Dillon, government director of the Tri-state Maritime Security Affiliation that covers Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Latest fire-related losses are leading to elevated insurance coverage prices for automakers transport cargo and prices are prone to enhance for vessel house owners as properly, stated John Frazee, a managing director at insurance coverage dealer Marsh. As ship house owners search to restrict losses by legally pursuing automakers whose autos are decided to have triggered a fireplace, automakers are shopping for extra legal responsibility safety, he stated.
Exacerbating the dangers is the enterprise mannequin utilized by the businesses that features tightly packed ships. Auto carriers just like the burning ship are often known as RoRos, which stands for roll-on/roll-off — the way in which vehicles are loaded and unloaded.
RoRos are like floating parking garages and might have a dozen or extra decks carrying 1000’s of autos, trade officers stated. In contrast to parking heaps, nevertheless, vehicles are parked bumper-to-bumper with as little as a foot or two of area overhead.
Firemen usually put out EV battery fires on roadsides by clearing the world across the burning car and flooding the underside with water, one thing troublesome to do on a RoRo, Dillon stated.
“There isn’t any manner for a firefighter in protecting gear to get to the placement of a hearth” on a ship, he stated, including the cramped situations enhance the hazard getting trapped.
Whereas trains and vehicles additionally transport EVs, isolating and extinguishing fires is less complicated as employees can unhook a rail automobile and a trucker can pull over, stated Frazee.
Frazee expects insurers to guide the cost on strengthening security techniques on ships. Choices being labored on embody new chemical substances to douse flames, specialised EV hearth blankets, battery piercing hearth hose nozzles and proposals to segregate EVs.
“I see no fast resolution,” Frazee stated.
The Worldwide Maritime Group, which units laws for security at sea, plans to judge new measures subsequent yr for ships transporting EVs in gentle of the rising variety of fires on cargo ships, a spokesperson instructed Reuters.
That might embody specs on sorts of water extinguishers out there on boats and limitations on the quantity a battery may be charged, which impacts flammability.
With EVs right here to remain, KVNR’s Habers stated his group is discussing tightening laws to account for the extra security dangers.
“There’s already an entire lot of communication underway about this,” he stated, “however with this incident it turns into obvious we would want to hurry up the method, particularly when you think about that the variety of this type of vehicles is barely going to rise.”
International auto gross sales final yr totaled 81 million autos, 9.5% of which have been EVs, in line with EV-Volumes.com. China and Europe have been essentially the most aggressive areas in pushing automakers to shift to EVs, and U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has proposed guidelines that might end in as a lot as two-thirds of the brand new car market shifting to EVs by 2032.