March 30, 2023: A vessel carrying 4,000 vehicles that sank in the Atlantic last year after a suspected EV battery fire will likely never be recovered and the cause of the disaster will remain a mystery, the ship’s owner told Energy Storage Journal today.
EVs were among the vehicles on board the Felicity Ace car carrier, which caught fire in February 2022 southwest of the Azores while sailing from Germany to the US.
A spokesperson for MOL Shipmanagement Singapore, whose Car Carriers subsidiary owned the vessel, said the depth of the sea where the Felicity Ace sank while being towed in a failed rescue attempt is an estimated 3,000 metres, making a potential salvage operation “quite difficult”.
The spokesperson declined to comment when asked if MOL had received claims for compensation relating to the potential environmental hazard and loss of the vehicles on board — worth an estimated $400 million-$500 million, according to the Safety & Shipping Review 2022, published by corporate insurance carrier Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS).
AGCS said that after more than 70 reported fires on container ships alone in the past five years, a major rethink of vessel designs, fire detection and fire-fighting capabilities may also be required.
The MOL spokesperson said the company continues to transport EVs, taking necessary safety measures, but declined to say whether vehicle cargo handling rules had been reviewed or changed in the wake of the Felicity Ace incident.
Energy Storage Journal revealed in March 2022 that China had called on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to consider a shake-up of maritime safety rules for EVs being shipped by sea, amid a rising tide of fires involving lithium ion batteries.
An IMO spokesperson has told Energy Storage Journal that proposals relating to fire protection and the tackling of fires involving transport of EV/new energy vehicles are expected to be discussed by the organization’s sub-committee on ship systems and equipment during the next year.
Meanwhile, in January, Norwegian shipping company Havila Kystruten announced it was banning electric cars, hybrids and hydrogen vehicles on its ferries because of a potential fire hazard.
Historically, one in three EV fires has occurred with no obvious cause while the car was parked, according to a 2021 report by research consultancy IdTechEx.