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IUMI Study Reveals Conventional Vehicles Burn as Intensely as EVs in Ro/Ro Fires
By Sea and Coast | 04/09/2023
The recent fire incident aboard the car carrier Fremantle Highway has raised concerns about the safety of transporting electric vehicles (EVs) within the shipping industry. While the exact cause of the fire on the Fremantle Highway is still under investigation, the shipping community is searching for answers regarding the increasing number of ship fires, particularly on car carriers and roll-on/roll-off ships (roros).
In response to these concerns, the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) conducted research and recently released a paper aimed at addressing safety fears associated with shipping EVs.
The paper primarily addresses two key aspects. First, it examines the risks associated with transporting EVs on two types of vessels: pure car and truck carriers (PCTCs) and roro/ropax vessels. Second, it investigates whether there is a higher likelihood of EVs catching fire compared to internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs).
According to Lars Lange, IUMI Secretary General, the paper draws on scientific research indicating that fires in battery EVs are not more dangerous or frequent than fires in conventional vehicles. Current statistics suggest that, in general, there are fewer fires involving EVs compared to conventional vehicles when driven over the same distance.
Data from the EU-funded Lash Fire Project also shows only a minor difference between EV fires and those of ICEVs. While factors like state of charge (SoC) and thermal runaway can affect the characteristics of EV fires, they do not result in a higher total heat release compared to ICEV fires.
However, the challenge with EV fires lies in firefighting. Extinguishing a thermal runaway in a lithium-ion battery is challenging unless firefighting agents can be injected directly into the battery for efficient cooling.
The type of ship is a crucial factor in determining the severity of vehicle fires. Roros, for instance, store cars on open decks, making firefighting more challenging due to increased airflow. Ropax vessels, carrying passengers, introduce additional complexities such as passengers wanting to charge their EVs onboard and the potential inclusion of older, potentially less safe vehicles.
In contrast, PCTCs typically carry vehicles tightly packed, leaving minimal room for emergency access and allowing fires to spread rapidly. External firefighting teams may not be familiar with the vessel's design and may not be trained for fires in such environments.
IUMI makes several recommendations in response to these challenges. Early fire detection and confirmation are essential to reduce the time between detection and firefighting response. Additionally, advanced systems like thermal imaging cameras and AI-powered systems could complement traditional fire detection systems. Drencher systems, coupled with video monitoring systems, could be effective for combating fires on roro and ropax vessels, both for EVs and ICEVs.
At the policy level, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) sub-committee on Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE) is scheduled to meet in March 2024. During this meeting, the committee will assess the adequacy of fire protection, detection, and extinction arrangements in spaces designated for vehicles, special categories, and ro-ro spaces. The aim is to reduce the fire risk on ships carrying new energy vehicles. This forum provides an opportunity for industry stakeholders to establish appropriate safety procedures for shipping alternative fuel vehicles.