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Safety concerns mount over lithium-ion battery cargo fires


The UK rolex replica P&I Club and the TT Club, both managed by insurance services group Thomas Miller, and its technical consultancy subsidiary, Brookes Bell, are the latest experts to focus on the dangers associated with the transport of li-ion batteries.

Battery-related fires are now shippings most expensive cause of loss, according to research undertaken earlier this year by Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty into claims in the marine sector.  

Related: Allianz highlights burning issue of cargo fires

Larger vessels, rising demand for electric vehicles (EVs) and the rapidly increasing volume of battery shipments, are all contributory factors and are compounding the risks. In a new White Paper, Brookes Bell experts call for shipping to adopt a much more robust approach to li-ion battery-related risk management.

In many cases, however, ships crews have few options. Undeclared or misdeclared cargoes are one problem, but a fire in a container position low in a stack is, to all intents and purposes, completely inaccessible. Once a fire takes hold, the likelihood is that it could engulf the entire vessel.

Related: The risks faced by seafarers in electric vehicle fires

When a li-ion battery fails, the consultants said, the speed of failure is almost immediate, producing significant quantities of toxic, corrosive and flammable gases, and intense heat of 450C and more. Explosive atmospheres can be created but continue to be underestimated, Brookes Bell said.

Fire-fighting materials such as CO2 and foam, meanwhile, are entirely ineffective in fighting such fires. Large volumes of water are needed, although the risk of electrocution is a further concern. Smoke may contain highly toxic vapours and fumes and, the experts said, fire-fighters, if they do have access, are traditionally taught to go in low but since the vapours may be heavier than air, this may well be the wrong approach. 
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