The recently released United States Coast Guard (USCG) Marine Safety Alert 01-22 “Lithium Battery Fire” highlights some of the dangers of lithium ion batteries, in this instance the carriage of incorrectly declared lithium ion batteries in containers. A container loaded with discarded lithium ion batteries, intended to be loaded on board a container ship bound for China, caught fire whilst being transported to the port. The bill of lading listed “computer parts,” not lithium ion batteries.
The main hazards associated with the carriage of lithium ion batteries are Fire, Explosion and Toxicity.
Lithium ion batteries contain flammable electrolytes and are very high energy density with the potential to overheat from internal short circuit or a defect and release considerable heat at very high temperatures. Additionally, lithium ion cells could also experience thermal runaway (an uncontrolled chain reaction where the rate of heat generation within the battery component exceeds its capacity to dissipate the heat). Once triggered, the thermal runaway can be extremely difficult to extinguish.
Shippers of any batteries or devices containing batteries should review the IMDG code for the applicable carriage provisions and criteria that are to be met including any stowage, segregation, packaging, testing, certification, labelling, marking or other requirements as may be applicable. Specific guidance may apply depending on the type of battery being transported and its associated hazards.
For lithium ion batteries the IMDG code provides guidance under section 2.9.4 in regard to the necessary criteria and supporting certification to be met for ensuring safe transportation.
This article is intended to highlight to Members the incident referenced in the Marine Safety Alert and to raise awareness to the potentially catastrophic consequences should such an incident occur when lithium ion batteries are being carried on board a vessel.
The above guidance supplements other widely available industry guidance which is not addressed in this risk alert.