TT Club hits out at ‘criminal’ shippers of lithium batteries

A leading transport insurer has hit out at the “regulatory mismatch” in the shipping of lithium batteries, classing some manufacturers of the dangerous cargo as “criminal”. UK-based TT Club has issued an update on the carriage of these batteries as the number of fires on boxships and roros linked to them grows.

Lithium batteries are required to be certified to an international standard involving a rigorous series of tests performed by an approved independent testing laboratory to ensure they can both withstand everyday use through their expected lifetime and the rigours of transport. Responsibility for testing and achieving certification rests with the shipper and/or manufacturer.

The sharp rise in demand has been accompanied by supply of cheaper, poorer quality and untested batteries, including refurbished and even homemade power banks, according to the TT Club.

E-commerce platforms have facilitated a global trade in potentially lethal products, often circumventing global standards and regulations

“E-commerce platforms have facilitated a global trade in potentially lethal products, often circumventing global standards and regulations,” the insurer stated.

TT’s risk management director, Peregrine Storrs-Fox, commented: “As with many successful technologies, market demand has outpaced the development of safety regulations.”

Since the mid-1980s lithium batteries have been classified under dangerous goods regulations for transport based on the weight of lithium contained in the cells or batteries and the potential hazard presented by a given battery is also related to the amount of lithium it contains. However, as technology has advanced, the amount of energy derived from the active material has increased by up to 50%, leading to what Storrs-Fox described as a “regulatory mismatch” where provisions are essentially framed around mass and energy output.

The consequences of lithium fuelled fires can be more extensive than others. They are very difficult to extinguish, prone to thermal runaway and present an explosion risk. Due to the heat generated, re-ignition once a fire has been extinguished is an additional risk.

“The majority of shippers will take all practicable steps to ensure that their lithium batteries achieve certification and are classified, packaged, packed, labelled and declared correctly. A small – frankly criminal – minority are motivated to avoid compliance, entering cargo into the supply chain that presents great risk to all,” Storrs-Fox observed. “Once lithium batteries are placed into the intermodal supply chain, there is little opportunity for the cargo to be checked, visually or otherwise to verify compliance. For all who are contracted to transport, handle or store lithium batteries therefore, developing a thorough understanding of this particular cargo is a prudent step. Moreover, due diligence into the origin of manufacture and integrity of the shipper instigating the move of these potentially lethal power sources is critical.”

Splash has reported regularly on fires coming from lithium batteries, which can reach temperatures of more than 2,700 degrees celsius.

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.


  1. There are many concerns about the carriage of these batteries, particularly the illegal aspects. However, in the case of the Felicity Ace, which you picture, this surely cannot be relevant. The vessel was a pure car carrier, all batteries on board would be part of the cars, & as such pretty well legal. So blaming criminals in this particular case (which you infer by the pic) is wrong. It was probably quite legal & correctly stowed & carried cargo that went up in flames, so methinks some rethinking on safety standards for car carriers is long overdue. Over to you, IMO!

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