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Risks surrounding lithium-ion batteries on board

A look back at the conclusions drawn from the fire on board M/Y Kanga in 2018…

A recent article on SuperyachtNews.com discussed the risks surrounding the storage of lithium-ion battery-powered equipment on board. In light of this article, and its call to raise the awareness amongst crew of the risks associated with the storage and charging of electric tenders and toys in the marine environment, it is perhaps pertinent to look back at the fire on board 40m M/Y Kanga in 2018, which was subsequently linked to lithium-ion batteries. 

As Transport Malta’s Marine Safety Investigation Unit explains in its safety investigation report into the incident, Kanga was at anchor in the coastal area of Dubrovnik, Croatia on the morning of 7 September, 2018. While the first officer was on the bridge, the fire panel gave off an alarm, indicating a fire in the garage.

“He immediately went down to inspect and was overwhelmed by the presence of heat and smoke in the garage,” the report states. “The main fire alarm was triggered and the first officer called all crew and passengers to muster at the bow. An attempt was made to fight the fire; however, it was unsuccessful. The fire rose towards the upper decks and subsequently grew out of control. The yacht was abandoned on orders given by the master. No injuries were reported.” 

“The safety investigation report concluded that, in all probability, the seat of the fire was the lithium-ion batteries...”

The safety investigation report concluded that, in all probability, the seat of the fire was the lithium-ion batteries – Kanga had on board a total of four lithium-ion battery packs for the electric surfboards. “Documentary evidence indicated that the crew had been experiencing some problems with the batteries of the electric surfboards, namely sea water leakage into three of the four battery packs… and had notified the manufacturers that they had intended to return them for repair/replacement,” the report reads.

“Although the seat of the fire in the garage of Kanga was not established, the potential sources of fire, as identified earlier in this safety investigation report, and the fittings that were provided for the fire protection of the garage, drew the attention of the investigation towards the leaking battery packs of electric surfboards.” 

The purpose of the marine safety investigation is to determine the circumstances and safety factors of the accident as a basis for making recommendations, and to prevent further marine casualties or incidents from occurring in the future. As such, the report ends with certain recommendations to the yacht’s managing company, designed to ensure adequate fire-detection measures, and to flag state administration, with the aim of enhancing fire safety on board commercial yachts.

One of the conclusions made in the report was that the crew did not seem fully aware of the hazards associated with lithium-ion batteries, which resulted in an inadequate assessment of the risks involved with these batteries, even after three of the four batteries were found leaking. Read the aforementioned article here to find out more about the issue from a classification society perspective.

To read the safety investigation report in full, click here.

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