With this short article I would like to highlight some of the challenges with Ro-Ro/-Pax and Pure Car and Truck Carrier (PCTC) fires and projects and initiatives where these challenges are currently worked on.
First, it is important to distinguish between the cargo types, typically carried on these vessel segments. On Ro-Ro vessels vehicles (cars, trucks, buses) are carried as cargo and consist of new and used units. On a Ro-Pax there is a mix of cargo units and units belonging to the travelling customers and lastly on a PCTC it is only cargo which can be solely factory new, second hand or a mix of the two.
Most fires have their origin in second hand units and typically an electronic malfunction (short circuit), although batteries are disconnected on second hand units. It is very seldom that factory new cars have been identified as the origin for onboard fires, including Electric Vehicles (EV).
Two other unique features on these vessel segments are the accessibility on single units, due to tight stowage, meaning that if a unit in the middle of the stow is the source of fire it is difficult, if not impossible to get access to it. This is a major challenge when it comes to EVs. The other one is the fire suppression media; currently the low-pressure CO2 is the most used system/media (free-flowing system), which is effective for units with Internal Combustion Engine (ICE), the second is low pressure expansion foam, which has had technical issues (the system depends on pumps/fans). Currently there is no fire suppression system for EVs!
Typical stowing distance. Source: Author
The last three Constructive Total Loss (CTL) cases due to fire within the PCTC segment in chronological order: Grande America (2019), Hoegh Xiamen (2020) and the Felicity Ace (2022). The Felicity Ace was loaded with 4,000 cars with a collective value estimated at US$ 400 million. The cargo was factory new cars (both ICE and EV), High and Heavy (HH) units and 2nd hand cars and HH. So far, the cause and the source of fire is unknown.
There are several projects and initiatives working on the fire issue and finding permanent solutions to extinguish EVs (including thermal runaway) onboard. CFIS LASH FIRE is the first project where both IUMI and Cefor are represented to provide marine insurance inputs to the project and outcomes. DNV has had an AFV (Alternative Fuelled Vehicles) workshop together with the major Nordic operators and Cefor representatives. EMSA initiated the “FIRESAFE” I and II projects, which lead to IMO level. Finally, the IMO’s Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE) sub-committee is tasked to work on AFV/EV fire extinguishing solution.
Sources for further information:
Lashfire: Legislative Assessment for Safety Hazards of Fire and Innovations in Ro-Ro Ship Environment
Incident Information Centre
Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 105), 20–29 April 2022