Firefighting efforts to quell the flames on the burning Felicity Ace ship full of luxury vehicles are complicated by the fact that electric car battery fire can’t be easily put out with water. The SMIT Salvage company hired to save the burning ship says they’ve never had a case like that before due precisely to the electric cars on board.
A few days ago, a 2013 German Transport Ministry study on electric cars as fire hazard for maritime transport was brought to the spotlight again, and its analysis was quickly proved by the luxury vehicles on board of the burning Felicity Ace cargo ship that caught on fire near Portugal last week. The fire still hasn’t been put out by SMIT Salvage and the company’s spokesperson says it’s because there are electric vehicles on Felicity Ace whose batteries keep burning no matter how many tons of water you pour over them. Extinguishing a Li-ion battery fire that spontaneously reignites takes enormous amounts of time and water compared to legacy vehicles. A recent Tesla car crash in Texas, for example, resulted in firefighters dousing the electric car battery for hours and using 30,000 gallons of water in total, as much as the local fire department typically uses in a month.
There are already technologies developed specifically to combat EV battery flames, such as the one by the Austrian firefighting tools company Rosenbauer (PDF), which puts a high-pressure nozzle directly under the battery pack. The water can then pierce through the unit’s packaging and douse the cells directly, extinguishing the flames with a much greater success than simply pouring water over the vehicle. Such technology, however, is impossible to apply to a burning ship with evacuated crew, hence the SMIT Salvage problems with Felicity Ace. The ship carries a number of luxury Porsches and Bentleys that VW was shipping to the U.S., and some among them could’ve been those fast-charging Taycan models with the big batteries that now keep reigniting. The 2013 German study of the fire hazard potential when transporting electric cars by sea had the following recommendations aimed to mitigate the danger:
- BEV/HEV and FC vehicles should be transported in special areas (equipped with appropriate detectors, fire-extinguishing equipment and fire-extinguishing agents).
- In the case of a fire, possibly separation of such vehicles by means of a water wall or mobile partitions (roller blinds).
- The awareness of fire-fighting teams should be raised with regard to the dangers arising from BEV/HEV and FC vehicles and their training should be extended accordingly.