RoRo vessels and the transport of electric vehicles

By Guillermo Zamora, Founder, Marlin Blue

Over the last few years, the concern regarding fires occurring in Ro-Ro vessels has been intensifying. Specifically, the interplay between Ro-Ro vessels and the carriage of electric vehicles (EV) has been growing in importance for marine insurers.

The most recent event sparking wide debate in our marine insurance market, and also in the media, was the incident aboard the Freemantle Highway where, tragically, the life of a seafarer was lost.

Immediately after the fire broke-out, and almost at the same time as salvors arrived to assist, news appeared on many search engines speculating that is was the carriage of EVs that had caused the fire. It was way too early to draw conclusions regarding the cause of the fire and the speculation only fuelled public alarm.

It is worth noting that Ro-Ro vessels carry a diverse array of cargo, from vehicles to reefers, each posing a different set of risks. Fires on Ro-Ro vessels were an issue before EVs were carried by these ships and, sadly, they look likely to continue.  Industry voices must call for a collaborative effort involving engineers and seafarers to develop risk-reduction strategies.

It is always interesting to listen to experts as something new is often learnt.  At the last IUMI Asia Forum, one of the panels focused on “Risk Management for E-vehicles: Perspectives from an OEM & a Hull Insurer”. On panellist, Mr Martti Simojoki,  mentioned that during a recent conference he had heard one truck manufacturer said:

“You don't charge (EVs) onboard, are you crazy?”

This comment is important as it highlights the fact that the Battery Management Systems installed in EVs is only active when the EVs are being charged – otherwise it remains passive.

As EVs become a more common cargo, the presence of charging stations onboard could become a vital element in risk mitigation. Underwriters could potentially consider adjusting the risk profile for vessels equipped with these charging stations, as they may offer enhanced safety measures and early fire detection.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for reducing the risk of fire on Ro-Ro vessels, but listening to the experts is important.