Car carrier firms start to turn away used EVs in wake of spate of serious fires

Shipping operators are turning away transporting risky used electric vehicles (EVs) in greater numbers.
Japan’s Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) is the latest name to go on the record saying it is pulling back from transporting secondhand battery-powered cars.

MOL, which operates one of the world’s largest car carrier fleets, suffered this year’s largest shipping casualty to date in dollar terms when its 6,400 ceu vessel, Felicity Ace, caught fire and eventually sank off the Azores five weeks ago with losses, according to law firm Vinson & Elkins, in the region of $500m.
The casualty was the fourth big car carrier blaze involving EVs since 2019.

While not every fire has necessarily started via an EV, once they are caught up in any blaze they act as a serious accelerant. Lithium-ion batteries which catch fire can reach temperatures of more than 2,700 degrees celsius.

A spokesman for MOL told Splash today that its new policy only applies to used battery-powered EVs and not to hybrid vehicles.

“The number of used EVs we transport has been increasing recently, so we have decided to review our standards for accepting used vehicles and have decided to suspend accepting booking of used battery electric vehicles for the time being,” the spokesperson said.

MOL said it conducts safety checks on conventional petrol and diesel cars before boarding by ensuring they can move under their own power and by visually inspecting them for leaks. Such procedures are hard to carry out with used EVs, the spokesperson said.

Australian car news site GoAuto has contacted a number of other car carrier firms who have also decided to halt shipping used EVs this year.

Last week South Korea’s Hyundai Glovis detailed a new fire response system it has been working on with class society Korean Register which includes more sprinklers and EVs covered in specially produced fire-resistant blankets while in transit.

Aware of the rising risks from EV fires, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) issued a paper in June last year in which it said that fire fighting equipment and measures in existing ships carrying cars needed to be reassessed.

London-based law firm Watson Farley & Williams said in a recent report that although it is not clear whether electric vehicles are more likely than conventional vehicles to catch fire, it is common ground that the consequences are potentially more disastrous and more difficult to handle.

“If crews are not aware that fighting an EV fire requires a different technique to that employed in fighting a conventional fire onboard, it is easy to see how an incident could lead to a total loss. The evidence indicates that current suppression and drenching systems will not be sufficient for this new risk. New systems will need to be devised and incorporated into ship design,” stated the law firm.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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