Onboard fires represent one of the top causes of all ship losses, according to Allianz, and this number is on the rise in recent years.
Of the 49 incidents recorded in 2020, 10 were fires — a four-year high. Take the Felicity Ace fire, which made headlines after firefighters worked to tame a blaze for more than two weeks before sinking with $400 million of luxury vehicles onboard.
This is just one example of recent issues with transporting vehicles, especially electric vehicles with lithium ion-batteries that can overheat, causing catastrophic and fast-moving fires onboard Ro-Ro ships.
At a recent Safetytech Accelerator webinar with some of the top minds in maritime and vehicle safety today, ShipIn’s CEO Osher Perry sat on a panel with Martin Carlsson, Project Manager of Fire Safety at Stena Teknik; Dr. Paul Christensen, Lithiumionsafety Ltd; and Colin Gillespie, Director of Loss Prevention at North P&I.
Read on for a recap of the webinar, or watch it in full now:
The Risks of Vehicle Transport
What makes vehicle transport so challenging today is primarily related to the rise of alternative energy vehicles, particularly those that use electric or lithium ion batteries.
“Electric vehicles dominate the alternative fuel niche. By 2030, 50% of vehicles transported will be electric, which makes sense if you think about government policy and consumer demand. With this, you have to think carefully about storage for stability and fire, and what other types of cargo you have on board. It’s having a direct impact on PTCs and PCCs, with a clear risk that is increasing.” – Colin Gillespie, Director of Loss Prevention at North P&I
With electric vehicles, you’re dealing with a completely different chemical makeup. Fighting a battery fire like the one on the Felicity Ace requires specialty equipment and knowledge.
“The gases from these fires are extremely toxic, especially when batteries go into thermal runaway for whatever reason. Gases vent from the batteries and take with them small droplets of solvent, which creates a thick white appearance as if it is smoke or steam, but it’s flammable, explosive, toxic gas, which is what creates such a problem. And it’s a matter of seconds between the first signs of failure and an explosion.” – Dr. Paul Christensen, Lithiumionsafety Ltd
Why Visibility Matters in Onboard Operations
What makes this even more difficult is the lack of visibility onboard most ships. Most of the videos we’ve been able to see of onboard fires are from rescue crews, garages, or within the containers, and we don’t necessarily have a complete picture of what happened to cause a fire. On the Felicity Ace, for example, it was only via helicopter that any footage of the fire was captured at all.
As ships get bigger, it’s more difficult than ever for crew to monitor all areas of the ship, finish their tasks, and manage administrative and regulatory burdens.
“I think there’s a lot of discussions with the different manufacturers. There are attempts for the industry to make a standard, but not all car manufacturers and not all OEMs have accepted. Methods for screening and detection are still difficult to get right, especially for gases or heat from thermal runaway batteries, which require hyperlocal detection.” – Martin Carlsson, Project Manager of Fire Safety at Stena Teknik
To prevent incidents like this from occurring, fleets need a real-time alert system with sensors that can identify emergency situations, like smoke or fire, but also unsafe situations or safety procedures missed before they escalate — for example, if a fire door is left open.
Make Vehicle Transport Safer with ShipIn
That’s where digital tools like ShipIn can help. ShipIn’s FleetVision Platform can give your team an understanding of the events leading up to the event, such as missed routine maintenance, security breaches, or navigational factors.
AI-powered cameras and visual analytics allow for early hazard detection in real-time for events like a fire, ingress of water, or other risks onboard. The solution can also provide a system or record so when accidents and incidents do occur, the team can understand what occured, learn from it, and improve operations in the future to improve the safety of operations.
With ShipIn, you get the visibility and insights you need to effectively manage your fleet, keeping your ship operations safe and secure.