There are growing concerns within the shipping community, including marine underwriters, about fires breaking out on car carriers and roros with the assertion that many of these fires are attributable to electric vehicles. In response, the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) has researched these claims and published recommendations on the safe carriage of electric vehicles (EVs).
Scientific research demonstrates that fires in battery EVs are not more dangerous than fires in conventional vehicles, nor are they more frequent. Although statistics continue to be gathered, they currently estimate that, in general, there are fewer fires from EVs compared with fires from conventional vehicles when driven over the same distance.
Research also proves that there is only a minor difference between total energy released during an EV fire and one that is related to an internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV). Once established, vehicle fires are largely (approx. 80%) fuelled by the car body and interior parts rather than the propulsion system. However, the potential for thermal runaway (when the battery suffers an unstable chemical reaction) exists for EVs whereas it is not a consideration for ICEVs. Thermal runaway makes fires hard to extinguish, hence mitigation measures such as boundary cooling must be employed rapidly. Moreover, the risk of re-ignition is higher for an extended period of time.
In the paper, IUMI makes important distinctions between roros and pure car and truck carriers (PCTCs) noting that many roros will stow cars on open decks where air flow makes fire-fighting more challenging. Ropax vessels (where passengers are also carried) present additional issues such as passengers wanting to charge onboard and the possibility of cars being loaded that are older and potentially less safe. Conversely, PCTCs tend to carry vehicles tightly packed leaving little room for emergency access and facilitating the rapid spread of a fire.
The full IUMI paper is available HERE.
An IUMI podcast on this subject was recently recorded and features Martti Simojoki from IUMI’s Loss Prevention Committee and Hendrike Kühl, IUMI’s Policy Director. Listen to the podcast HERE.