Can more be done to ensure the safe transport of vehicles on board ships

As the automotive industry looks to electric vehicles (EVs) to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050, the shipping industry must find ways to deal with uncertainty about potential fire hazards related to the transport of these vehicles and the lack of knowledge of the associated fire characteristics.

As more electric vehicles are manufactured and shipped, the instances and severity of fires on car carriers and ro-ro passenger ships (ro-pax) have increased in tandem.

During a webinar organized by Safetytech AcceleratorEstablished by Lloyd’s Register and the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, Maritime Engagement Manager Rich McLoughlin said while electric vehicles are the auto industry’s answer to calls for decarbonization, recent car carrier fires point to emerging risks surrounding the transportation of electric vehicles.

McLoughlin said: “We are certainly seeing a huge push around decarbonisation, and the automotive industry has led the development of battery technology and alternative fuel vehicles towards this end.

“We have seen governments take action to ban combustion engine cars within certain timeframes, sparking interest in the growth of electric vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles. However, there have been concerns about the pace of change, whether with infrastructure or with security systems. We have seen some of the risks associated with car fires and we have seen loss or damage to vessels carrying vehicles. »

While the European Parliament backs a phase-out of combustion engine cars by 2035, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) recently published tips for safely transporting alternative fuel vehicles (AFV) in the ro-ro spaces of passenger and cargo ships to meet this emerging challenge.

Each year the EU imports 3.7 million vehicles and in 2021 there were more than 16.5 million electric vehicles on the road, tripling compared to 2018.

North of England P&I Club loss prevention director Colin Gillespie shared his observation that through the club’s interaction with CCP operators, more electric vehicles are being dispatched and vessels could carry both electric vehicles and vehicles that still run on conventional internal combustion engines.

Gillespie added that in the five years before Covid-19 arrived in 2020, the North P&I Club noticed more fires in PCTCs, and the main cause was power failures. These fires declined during the first wave of the pandemic as movement restrictions impacted demand for vehicles. However, the loss of Felicity Ace occurred when vehicle shipments resumed.

Martin Carlsson, fire safety project manager at Stena Teknik, the technical unit of Swedish maritime group Stena, said the number of electric vehicles transported on ro-pax vessels is still in the single digits as a percentage of vehicles transported.

He said, “It doesn’t reflect the proportion of vehicles on the street, because people don’t trust the infrastructure overseas, so they’re hesitant to bring their EVs overseas.”

Carlsson suggested that as travel restrictions related to Covid-19 are lifted, more people will resume their journeys and more electric vehicles could be shipped on ro-pax ships. Although Stena does not ask passengers to declare the type of fuel that powers their cars, Carlsson does not rule out doing so in the future, if it could mitigate the risk of fire.

He added that the PCTCs would also need to be changed to account for larger and larger cars, such as having more axles for heavier vehicles.

Carlsson said, “Cars are bigger and include more fire energy than 25 or 30 years ago.”

Paul Christensen, founding director of, a consultancy specializing in lithium-ion battery safety, pointed out that these batteries, which power electric vehicles, are highly flammable and resulting fires can be difficult to extinguish. switch off.

He explained: “The gas that comes out of lithium-ion batteries is extremely toxic… If it ignites, you get long rocket-like flames. The drencher in ships can protect surrounding vehicles, but since the batteries are at the bottom of the vehicles, they are hidden from view.

This is where technology, especially visual analytics, comes into play.

Osher Perry, CEO of maritime analytics specialist ShipIn, discussed some of the solutions that technology could provide, such as sensors and AI that can be used to detect fire hazards.

He said: “This combination enables the development of solutions. When it comes to visual analytics, it’s all about what automation methods can we bring in to give an answer that can minimize the damage, moving forward. We keep talking about the fact that ships keep getting bigger, the challenges for the crew in terms of what needs to be done increase, both in terms of tasks, administration, regulatory requirements, keep increasing. ‘increase. We have yet to provide the solutions, the digital tools that crews need to do their jobs safer and more productively.

While experts believe relevant regulations, such as the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, could be improved, Gillespie believes regulatory changes should be staggered.

Gillespie said: “We are looking at vessels that are not designed to carry electric vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles…The crew may not be trained to recognize or deal with these types of fires…it is on the industry, operators and people who support ship operators to try to move forward on these kinds of things and to work together according to industry standards so that we get a common approach to recognizing and combating fires. If we sit and wait for the IMO, wait for the legislation, it may be six or seven years before these changes are passed and come into effect.

McLoughlin concluded the webinar with a call to action for ship operators and managers, supply chain members, port operators and technology companies to apply to potentially join the next Safetytech Accelerator Innovation Challenge. in this particular area.

Contact the Safetytech Accelerator here:

Watch the full webinar recording here:

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