Date: 24.05.2023

Hazardous update and moving electric cars

Rechargeable Lithium or Li-ion batteries, the predominant battery type used in portable consumer electronics and electric vehicles, generate extreme heat when they malfunction, which can quickly spread to nearby combustible materials, causing a rapid fire that’s challenging to extinguish.

There have been over 70 reported fires on container ships in the past five years, that have been blamed on hazardous cargo, chemicals and batteries. And with strict regulations controlling the air transport of batteries, it is clear that sea freight will be increasingly called on to transport Li-ion batteries as global EV demand grows, so safe and regulatory compliant supply chains are essential.

There are several causes of battery fires, but most malfunctions occur during charging or following a charging cycle. The failure rate of lithium-ion batteries is actually low and all batteries undergo comprehensive stress tests before they are mounted into a vehicle, which means that self-starting fires related to battery failures during transportation should not be a major concern as no charging takes place during voyages.

However, onboard RoRo (PCC or PCTC) vessels thousands of cars are stowed close together, so the consequences of a battery fire can be particularly dangerous. In 2022, the Felicity Ace vessel caught fire, capsized and sank with 4,000 cars on board and while it is not certain the fire started in an EV, the incident highlights the potential dangers of battery fires onboard vessels.

To mitigate risks carriers have implemented strict regulations and best practices for handling electric vehicles, which regulate the state of charge (SOC) of all batteries, and will typically only accept vehicles with a charge of 50% or lower, often below 30%. 

The International Maritime Organisation has established a special task force to address these challenges and is expected to focus on safety and handling of electric vehicles in particular.

The Cargo Incident Notification System (CINS) is an initiative by shipping lines (representing >80% of the world’s container slot capacity) and insurers, to improve safety in the supply chain, reduce the number of cargo incidents on-board ships and on land, and highlight the risks caused by certain cargoes and/or packing failures.

We support the CINS Lithium-Ion Batteries in Containers Guidelines, for industry insights and to increase our knowledge and understanding of the risks posed by the international carriage of lithium batteries.

Metro are specialists in shipping dangerous goods and lithium batteries worldwide, with qualified personnel providing documentation, handling, transport and logistics solutions for all types of hazardous cargoes.  

We work closely with our customers’ suppliers, manufacturers and producers, to plan and execute supply chain transport in complete safety and compliance with international safety, health and environmental legislation.

Technology is constantly evolving, and risk control factors require constant updates and in particular human risk factors, which are particularly unpredictable.

For further information, or to discuss your hazardous requirements, please EMAIL, Heather Smith, who will advise on the solutions most appropriate to your supply chain.